Why ‘Prosody’ Matters in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)
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Why ‘Prosody’ Matters in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Prosody refers to the ‘music’ of speech — the rhythm, pitch, stress, and volume that convey meaning and emotion beyond the literal words themselves. Think about a monotone statement like ‘Really?’ compared to one with a rising inflection, expressing genuine curiosity.

When I work with children on producing speech sound sequences, we focus on mastering individual sounds and then putting them together into target words. A crucial element that can significantly impact a child’s speech production is ‘prosody’.

In CAS, where the difficulty lies in planning and executing the motor movements for speech, prosody can be a powerful tool for producing clearer words and phrases.

Here’s why working on prosody is an essential tool in CAS speech therapy:

1.  It aids Motor Learning:

Apraxia of Speech means that the planning and execution of speech movements are impaired. When we use exaggerated intonation or stress patterns while modelling words, we are providing additional prosodic variation and, therefore, additional auditory cues. These cues often help my student to carry out the correct motor movements for a word or syllable sequence.

For instance, I might say ‘ball’ with a high-pitched emphasis on the ‘b’ sound. This auditory cue might be more effective in guiding the child’s tongue placement than simply repeating the word without variation.

In this little video clip I get my student to say the word ‘snuggle’ (since we were working on that particular sound sequence: snuggle, snout, snore and sneeze) with a high voice and then a lower voice ‘like a bear’ — again it provides that extra auditory cue, but, in addition, the fun aspect also helps to take away the intense focus on a tricky movement pattern.

By now the new pathways have been laid through repeated practice and now automaticity takes over and without too much effort my student can suddenly produce a motor pattern. It’s magical when it happens and gives me such a thrill.

2. It makes speech more engaging and natural sounding:

Children with CAS often sound robotic or flat due to challenges with prosodic elements. By incorporating variations in pitch, volume, and rhythm during therapy, we can help achieve a more natural flow of speech

3. It makes it easier to express our emotions:

Children with CAS often struggle to express themselves emotionally; partly through the difficulty of producing clear words — period, but also in addition due to the difficulties or absence of musicality and rhythm in their speech.

Therefore, it is so important to incorporate activities focused on practising different emotions with varied intonation patterns. This can really empower our students to put emotions into their words.

Good words to practise are fun words like ‘Wow!’ or ‘Yeiih’ or power words and phrases like ‘No!’ or ‘Gimme that’ etc.

Making Therapy Fun and Engaging:

Speech therapy for CAS doesn’t have to be all drills and exercises (though to be fair sometimes we can’t quite get round to making each and every word huge fun though we try…).

I aim to make all my sessions fun and have intrinsic rewards built into the speech practice where possible.

Home practice tips:

Therapy shouldn’t exist in a bubble. Working on prosody during sessions is crucial, but it’s equally important to integrate these skills into everyday interactions. Parents and caregivers can model appropriate prosody during playtime, story time, or even simple conversations. This consistent reinforcement helps our children to generalise their newfound skills and use them naturally in their daily lives.

  • Sing songs and rhymes: Songs naturally incorporate variations in pitch and rhythm. Singing familiar songs and creating silly rhymes can be a delightful way to practise prosody.
  • Use puppets and toys: Assign different voices and personalities to puppets or toys. This encourages children to experiment with pitch and volume to differentiate characters.
  • Read aloud with enthusiasm: Model expressive reading, varying your voice for different characters and emphasising key words. This makes reading time engaging and helps children understand the power of prosody.

Please feel free to contact me if your child has speech sound difficulties. It is my passion. I love supporting children with apraxia.

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice

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.