My son Arif, who has autism, was non-verbal for the first five years of his life. And when he did start to speak, sometimes it was difficult for me to understand what he was saying, or it may look like he’s trying to say something, but he couldn’t quite get it out. If you’ve noticed something similar in your child, it may be time to consult a speech and language therapist about Childhood Apraxia of Speech or CAS.
What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech?
Childhood Apraxia of Speech or CAS, is a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for a child to produce speech and say what they want to say in a correct and consistent manner. Unlike some speech disorders, which are caused by muscle weakness, CAS occurs when a child’s brain prevents messages from reaching their mouth muscles. This makes it difficult for the child to coordinate the complex oral movements, and properly plan or sequence the words needed to:
- Create syllables
- Turn syllables into words
- Turn words into phrases
This usually results in speech that lacks fluency and sounds choppy. Children with CAS won’t outgrow this disorder, but they require speech therapy to make progress.
Signs and symptoms
Some of the most common characteristics associated with CAS in children are:
- Delayed development of a child’s first words and sounds.
- Pronouncing the same word in different ways each time.
- Difficulty in saying longer and more complex words and phrases.
- Using the wrong intonation or flow when saying a word or phrase.
- Making frequent and unusual sound errors (eg. omitting, switching or adding to words).
- Moving the mouth excessively in an attempt to produce sounds.
How CAS is diagnosed
To obtain an accurate diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech and to rule out other possible diagnoses,you must get your child comprehensively evaluated by a highly-experienced speech-language pathologist (SLP)/ therapist.
The evaluation will include:
- An assessment of your child’s speech skills
- An assessment of your child’s expressive and receptive language abilities
- Questions about how your child communicates at home, school and other situations.
A thorough assessment is essential, so that the speech and language therapist can develop therapy goals based on your child’s individual needs.
Children with CAS will benefit from ongoing speech therapy, with a focus on positive experiences with communication, which may include:
- Improving functional communication skills.
- Repeating and practicing sound sequences, words and phrases.
- Use of visual prompts to show how speech sounds are made, and how sequences of sounds are combined into words.
- Using other modes of communication, such as sign language, picture communication boards, and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices to decrease frustration and communication breakdowns, as well as promote verbal skills.
In order to help your child achieve significant improvements and maximum progress in their speech and communication skills, it is crucial for parents, caregivers and teachers to be actively involved in their treatment process. Talk to your child’s speech and language therapist on what to work on and strategies to achieve them.
Last but not least, outlooks for children with CAS improve with early evaluation and diagnosis, which is why awareness of Childhood Apraxia of Speech is so important.
If you have any concerns about your child’s communication skills and development, reach out to our speech and language therapist today.
This article was reviewed by The Energy Source’s Principal Speech and Language Therapist, Stacey Shah.