Everything you need to know about speech apraxia

By Drum Digital
30 June 2014

In response to a recent plea for help from a SuperMom in our Facebook community, we spoke to the experts about speech apraxia and how to treat it. Children who suffer from the condition can understand everything you say, but struggle to communicate with you.

A SuperMom seeks help

We recently received a heartfelt plea for help from a SuperMom who lives near Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. After a multitude of tests and seeing no less than four different paediatricians, her four-year-old son was finally diagnosed with speech apraxia. His coordination and concentration skills also seem to be lagging behind those of his peers. He attends a local Montessori school, which his mom explains helps a lot and she takes him and his two-year-old brother who has a hearing problem for play and occupational therapy every week. At home, she tries to help him with various developmental activities.

Sadly, a recent encounter with a woman in a shopping centre who made rude remarks about our reader’s son and kept asking questions about his condition our reader didn’t know how to answer left her feeling shaken and unsure she had all the necessary information about her son’s condition. Speech therapist Nadia Coetzer of Corli Hanekom Speech and Language Therapists in Cape Town answered her (and our) questions.

What is speech apraxia?

“Basically verbal apraxia or speech apraxia is a problem in planning speech. To put it more plainly, it’s when the brain knows what it wants to say but struggles to plan the movements needed by the mouth for the words to come out. It is therefore a neurological condition and children with speech apraxia will often understand very well what you’re saying and be able to follow instructions, but struggle to communicate,” Coetzer says.

What causes it?  

“To cut out confusion, there are two types of apraxia: the one is developmental apraxia found in kids, and the other is acquired apraxia which is found in adults and usually manifests after injury or stroke. The cause of developmental apraxia that is found in children, however, has not been determined yet,” Coetzer says.

Can my son be healed?

“Yes. It is possible to recover, but every child is different and it is a long process that involves a lot of therapy. Children diagnosed with the disorder need regular speech therapy to learn how to speak,” Coetzer says.

Does Ritalin or Respiradol commonly get prescribed for this? A teacher suggested it but I don’t want my child to take it.

Dr Adelaide Andrade, a general practitioner in Cape Town, recommends the mother rather discusses her child’s condition with a paediatric neurologist. “The chances are that the child has to go through a number of tests to determine what is necessary, and the prescription would depend on the outcome of these tests and the child’s specific needs.”

Can an Omega 3 supplement help with brain function and concentration?

Some mothers, especially of children who suffer from hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder, swear by Omega 3 supplements, but Andrade says a positive impact is yet to be proven with clinical studies. “Usually a child with this type of condition is also receiving other treatments like speech and occupational therapy and that hampers studies which can conclusively say it was the supplement that made an improvement.”

How do I answer questions when people make comments about the condition in front of my child?

Coetzer says the key is to be as informed as possible. “Usually when someone says something it’s because they don’t understand the situation. If you can explain to them in a nice, confident way what is going on, it will equip them and make it easier for you and your child.” A good attitude will also encourage your son to see his condition isn’t something to be ashamed of, merely something that needs to be explained.

Where can I get more help? 

Coetzer recommends the website as a good resource for more information about the condition. The website contains templates of letters that can be sent to teachers to explain your child’s condition, as well as brochures with vital information for parents.

Another link she recommends is this article, which she says cleared up some of her own confusion as a student in speech therapy regarding apraxia.

-Dalena Theron

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