What is Verbal Dyspraxia?
Apraxia or dyspraxia is a difficulty in motor planning, which sometimes can be seen in both gross and fine motor skills, as well as speech. Gross motor refers to difficulties in coordinating the whole body (e.g., bumping into things frequently, often falling over hurting themselves or others through being “clumsy” or unsteady). Fine motor movements refer to smaller, more precise movements (e.g., difficulties doing anything with their hands such as holding a spoon or pen).
In Dyspraxia of Speech, instead of seeing a coordinated smooth way of talking, we see the articulators (tongue, lips, cheeks) and voice coordinating very smoothly. The voice can be very quiet or very loud. Muscle tone can be weaker at times. Speech sounds are very unintelligible, with a flat voice that can sound forced. It may be that the timings of verbalisation appear random and that children can say a certain word once and never again. This is often what we hear from parents.
It is interesting to note that many of our autistic clients are either non-speaking or are reluctant speakers. Sometimes they say a word once and then never again. Others say lots of words but the words are very hard to make out. Did you know that about 40% of autistic people have verbal dyspraxia? (Richard, 1997). Because the problem is one of motor planning, not of automatic motor execution, once a plan has become automatic, it is easier to get back to it and this is why we often see repetitive patterns that can be called ‘stims’ (Marge Blanc, 2004).
How can Speech and Language Therapy help?
Children with verbal dyspraxia can make great progress!
We provide frequent and appropriate speech movement opportunities and with time and the right support, children will move forward and begin to speak more fluently and with greater intelligibility. It is important to know this can take time.
We provide Oral Motor Therapy using a variety of approaches to practise breathing, vocalising on the outbreath, and sequencing our speech movements.
We design carefully tailored programmes focusing on words that have a lot of power (e.g., NO, GO, UP, IN, OUT, LET’S GO, STOP).
We offer shared enjoyment, and laughter. This helps a child find their voice. Other ways of finding our voices include singing or humming, or even yelling/shouting!
The most difficult phase of verbal dyspraxia is initiation, that is to start talking, to start producing a word. Frequent “automatic” repetition supports children with initiation because it removes the element of “thinking to start”. I often ask a child to repeat a word 5-10 times (with rewards at the end. A little game works well). You can see that with repetition the act of initiating is taken out of the equation as you are “on a roll “as it were.
Once a child starts to find their voice, we will be able to hear them talk lot… And if we give them credit and presume that what they are saying has meaning, we will find in time that their words become clearer and more intelligible. If we listen carefully, we can detect real words and phrases.
For more tips and support, please get in touch!
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.