Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder. The messages from the brain to the mouth are disrupted, and the person cannot move his or her lips or tongue to the right place to say sounds correctly, even though the muscles are not weak. The severity of apraxia depends on the nature of the brain damage. Apraxia can occur in conjunction with dysarthria (muscle weakness affecting speech production) or aphasia (language difficulties related to neurological damage). Apraxia of speech is also known as acquired apraxia of speech, verbal apraxia, and dyspraxia.
Individuals with apraxia of speech know what words they want to say, but their brains have difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say all the sounds in the words. As a result, they may say something completely different or make up words (e.g., "bipem" or "chicken" for “kitchen"). The person may recognize the error and try again—sometimes getting it right, but sometimes saying something else entirely. This situation can become quite frustrating for the person.
Individuals with apraxia may demonstrate:
- difficulty imitating and producing speech sounds, marked by speech errors such as sound distortions, substitutions, and/or omissions;
- inconsistent speech errors;
- groping of the tongue and lips to make specific sounds and words;
- slow speech rate;
- impaired rhythm and prosody (intonation) of speech;
- better automatic speech (e.g., greetings) than purposeful speech;
- inability to produce any sound at all in severe cases.
Apraxia of speech is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control coordinated muscle movement. A common cause of acquired apraxia is stroke. Other causes include traumatic brain injury, dementia, brain tumors, and progressive neurological disorders.
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) uses a combination of formal and informal assessment tools to diagnose apraxia of speech and determine the nature and severity of the condition. The assessment typically includes examinations of the individual’s oral-motor abilities, melody of speech, and speech sound production in a variety of contexts.
An SLP can work with people with apraxia of speech to improve speech abilities and overall communication skills. The focus of intervention is on improving the planning, sequencing, and coordination of muscle movements for speech production. The muscles of speech often need to be "retrained" to produce sounds correctly and sequence sounds into words. Exercises are designed to allow the person to repeat sounds over and over and to practice correct mouth movements for sounds. The person with apraxia of speech may need to slow his or her speech rate or work on "pacing" speech so that he or she can produce all necessary sounds. In severe cases, augmentative and alternative communication may be necessary (e.g., the use of simple gestures or more sophisticated electronic equipment).
Many people with apraxia are no longer able to be independent and may have trouble performing everyday tasks. Ask the health care provider which activities may or may not be safe. Avoid activities that may cause injury and take the proper safety measures. Also, the more you research about the condition, the better!