Principles of motor learning in childhood apraxia of speech: A guide for parents and therapists
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Principles of motor learning in childhood apraxia of speech: A guide for parents and therapists

Image by Freepik

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a complex neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to plan and coordinate the movements necessary for speech production. Children with CAS often have difficulty with articulation, prosody, and fluency, making it challenging for them to communicate effectively. While there is no cure for CAS, speech and language therapy can significantly improve a child’s communication skills and overall quality of life. Understanding the principles of motor learning is crucial for both parents and speech therapists to support children with CAS on their speech journey.

What is MOTOR LEARNING?

Motor learning refers to the process of acquiring and refining new skills through practice and experience. This applies to all aspects of movement, including speech production. The brain constantly receives sensory information about the movements being made and adjusts them based on the desired outcome. A breakdown or interruption of this process can make it difficult for children to plan, sequence, and coordinate the intricate movements involved in speech.

What key principles do we use in speech and language therapy for motor learning?

  • Task Specificity: Speech Therapy activities that directly target the specific speech sounds or skills your child is working on. For example, if your child is struggling with /p/, practising isolated /p/ sounds, words with /p/, and phrases with /p/ would be most beneficial.
  • Massed vs. Distributed Practice: We consider the optimal amount and distribution of practice sessions throughout the day. Massed practice involves concentrated practice in a single session, while distributed practice spreads practice sessions throughout the day. The best approach depends on the individual child’s learning style and attention span.
  • Feedback: We provide clear and immediate feedback to help your child understand the accuracy and effectiveness of their attempts. This feedback can be auditory, visual, or touch based.
  • Error Correction: We aim to gently correct errors so that we can help your child refine their movements and avoid developing bad habits. The focus is on providing specific cues and guidance rather than simply pointing out mistakes.
  • Variety and Progression: We gradually introduce new challenges and variations in speech therapy activities to prevent plateaus and maintain motivation.
  • Motivation and Engagement: A big part of our work is to make therapy sessions fun and engaging to keep your child motivated and actively participating. We use games, songs, and activities that your child enjoys while incorporating targeted practice opportunities.

What about home work?

Yes we need your help and here are some examples of how this could look:

  • Task Specificity: During story time, focus on practising target sounds present in the story. Have your child repeat words or phrases containing the sound and encourage them to identify the sound in other words.
  • Massed vs. Distributed Practice: Instead of one long practice session, try shorter, more frequent sessions throughout the day. This can help maintain focus and prevent fatigue. It is recommended to go for 100 repetitions of the target sound per day, every day in between the sessions. We can decide together how you can best do that through either massed or distributed practice. We can decide after the session.
  • Feedback: Use a mirror to provide visual feedback on lip and tongue placement during sound production. Record the child’s speech and play it back to help them self-monitor their accuracy.

I quite like this mirror below but any table top mirror will work as long as it is not too small. Your child should see their whole face easily.

tabletop mirror
  • Error Correction: If the child makes an error, gently model the correct sound or movement without shaming or criticising. Provide specific cues such as ‘lips together’ for /p/ or ‘tongue up’ for /t/.
  • Variety and Progression: We will guide you on exactly what words to practise so this is something you need not worry about.
  • Motivation and Engagement: Use games, songs, and activities that your child enjoys. Play a game of ‘I Spy’ focusing on words with the target sound or create silly sentences with the sound to make practice fun.

Let’s work together!

It is crucial for parents, therapists, and other caregivers to work collaboratively to ensure a consistent and comprehensive approach to supporting your child’s speech development. Speech and Language Therapists can provide guidance and resources on implementing these principles at home, while parents can share observations and progress updates to inform therapy sessions.

Remember, every child with CAS learns at their own pace. By understanding and applying the principles of motor learning, parents and speech therapists can create a supportive and stimulating environment that empowers children with CAS to reach their full communication potential.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
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Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen

Unveiling the hidden spectrum: Why girls and autism often go unseen
Image by Freepik

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by social-communication challenges, restricted and repetitive behaviours, and sensory processing difficulties. While the prevalence of autism is estimated at 1 in 54 children, research suggests a significant disparity in diagnoses between genders. Boys are diagnosed with autism roughly four times more often than girls, leading us to question: Why are girls so much harder to diagnose with autism?

The answer lies in a complex interplay of factors, including:

1. Different presentations of autistic traits:

  • Socialisation: The stereotypical image of autism often portrays boys with aloofness and a lack of interest in social interaction. However, autistic girls may exhibit more subtle social difficulties. They may appear interested in socialising but struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, or navigating complex social dynamics. This ability to ‘camouflage’ their challenges can lead to misinterpretations of their intentions and abilities.
  • Restricted interests: While autistic boys may have intense interests in stereotypically ‘masculine’ topics like dinosaurs or trains, girls might gravitate towards interests traditionally associated with girls, like specific characters or activities. These interests, often deemed ‘typical’ might be overlooked as potential indicators of autism.
  • Repetitive behaviours: Repetitive behaviours are another core diagnostic feature of autism. However, autistic girls may exhibit these behaviours in more subtle ways, such as intense focus on specific routines, scripting conversations, or engaging in repetitive social interactions. These subtle expressions can easily go unnoticed.

2. The ‘camouflage’ effect:

Autistic girls, particularly those with higher cognitive abilities, may develop coping mechanisms to mask their challenges in social situations. This ‘camouflaging’ can involve mimicking social behaviours they observe in others, leading to significant internal distress and exhaustion. This effort to appear ‘normal/typical’ can further hinder accurate diagnosis.

3. Societal biases and diagnostic tools:

  • Gender bias: The current diagnostic criteria for autism were largely developed based on studies of boys, leading to a potential bias towards male presentations of the condition. This can result in girls who don’t exhibit the ‘typical’ symptoms being missed altogether.
  • Lack of awareness: Healthcare professionals and educators may have limited awareness of how autism manifests differently in girls. This lack of understanding can lead to misinterpretations of their behaviours and missed opportunities for diagnosis and support. I must say that this is really common in my working day. I see a child—girls or boys in this case to be fair, but mainly girls—where parents tell me: the doctor/health visitor/paediatrician has said it was ‘just a little delay’ and I am thinking ‘Really!??? What did they look at? How did they not see X Y Z’… It really is still very common.

4. Co-occurring conditions:

Autistic girls are more likely to experience co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression, which can overshadow the core features of autism. This makes it even more challenging to identify the underlying autism diagnosis.

The consequences of missed diagnoses and this goes of course for both, autistic girls AND boys!:

The consequences of undiagnosed autism can be significant. Children may experience:

  • Lack of access to appropriate support: Without a diagnosis, children may miss out on crucial interventions and therapies that can help them manage their challenges and thrive.
  • Increased vulnerability to mental health issues: The stress of masking and navigating social complexities can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Difficulty forming meaningful relationships: Social difficulties and communication challenges can hinder their ability to build and maintain healthy relationships.

Moving forward: Towards a more inclusive diagnosis:

To ensure all individuals on the spectrum receive the support they need, it’s crucial to:

  • Increase awareness and education: Healthcare professionals, educators, and the general public need to be educated about the diverse presentations of autism in girls and of course also in boys. Let’s not forget that we are still seeing older autistic boys with diagnoses given aged 12 years and older who have slipped through the net.
  • Develop gender-neutral diagnostic tools: Diagnostic criteria and assessments should be revised to encompass the broader spectrum of autistic traits, regardless of gender.
  • Encourage open communication: Parents, caregivers, and individuals themselves should be encouraged to voice their concerns and seek evaluations, even if their experiences don’t perfectly align with stereotypical presentations of autism.

By acknowledging the complexities of diagnosing autism, particularly in girls, and working towards a more inclusive approach, we can pave the way for earlier diagnoses, appropriate support, and a brighter future for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Creating your calm: containment strategies for Sensory Processing Difficulties
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Creating your calm: containment strategies for Sensory Processing Difficulties

The world can be a beautiful and stimulating place, but for individuals with Sensory Processing difficulties (SPD), it can also be overwhelming and even painful. Everyday sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes can be amplified to uncomfortable or even unbearable levels. This can lead to anxiety, meltdowns, and a constant feeling of being on edge.

One important coping mechanism for SPD is containment. Containment strategies are techniques that help individuals manage their sensory experiences and create a sense of calm and safety.

Understanding containment needs:

Containment needs vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals might find comfort in deep pressure, while others might crave quiet and solitude.

Common containment strategies:

Here are some examples of containment strategies that can be helpful for individuals with SPD:

  • Deep pressure: This can involve activities like wearing weighted vests, using weighted blankets, getting firm hugs, or applying deep pressure massage.
  • Movement: Engaging in rhythmic movements like rocking, swinging, or jumping can be calming for some individuals.
  • Proprioceptive input: Activities that involve proprioception, the sense of body awareness, can be grounding. Examples include yoga, stretching, and proprioceptive toys like chewy necklaces or fidget spinners.
  • Visual calming: Utilising calming visuals like nature scenes, dimmed lights, or fidget toys with visual patterns can provide a sense of peace.
  • Auditory modifications: Noise-blocking headphones, earplugs, or white noise machines can help block out distracting or overwhelming sounds.
  • Oral motor activities: Chewing gum, crunchy snacks, or chewy toys can provide sensory input and help regulate emotions.
  • Sensory bottles: Watching calming visuals move within a liquid-filled bottle can be visually stimulating and promote focus.
  • Creating a safe space: Having a designated quiet area at home or school where individuals can retreat to self-regulate can be invaluable. This space should be free from clutter and overwhelming stimuli and can include calming sensory items.

Additional tips:

  • Be patient and understanding: It takes time and practice to find what works best for each individual. Be patient with yourself or your child as you explore different strategies.
  • Consistency is key: Once you find effective strategies, use them consistently in different settings to create a sense of predictability and comfort.
  • Communicate openly: Talk to teachers, caregivers, and others about individual needs and how they can support containment strategies.
  • Celebrate progress: No matter how small, acknowledge and celebrate successes in managing sensory experiences.

Remember:

Containment is not about suppressing sensory experiences altogether. It’s about creating a sense of control and reducing overwhelming sensations to a manageable level. By exploring different strategies and working with a qualified professional, individuals with SPD can develop the tools they need to navigate the world and experience life to the fullest.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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