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

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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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