Speech pathologists at Nationwide Children's Hospital report an increasing number of patients diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a motor speech disorder in which children have difficulty saying basic sounds and words.
As a result, they are urging parents and pediatricians to be on the lookout for symptoms of the condition.
In 2006, 150 kids at Nationwide Children's, seven percent of all speech therapy patients, were diagnosed with apraxia of speech. That's more than double the year before. Meanwhile, the number of speech pathology patients overall increased by just 13 percent from 2005 to 2006. While there is little national data available representing the number of children with apraxia of speech, speech therapists at Nationwide Children's estimate as many as one to 10 children out of every 1,000 kids may have the disorder.
Children with apraxia of speech know what they want to say, but their brains have difficulty coordinating the muscle movements of the lips, jaw and tongue necessary to say those words. Often, these kids speak in only vowel sounds or chunks of words and sentences are missing.
“This is often very frustrating for the child, who desperately wants to be understood and can't understand why he or she is unable to communicate,” said Christina Doelling, a speech pathologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. “Many times, kids with speech problems will act out, become aggressive or exhibit other behavioral problems.”
Therapists say the earlier the condition is diagnosed and intervention begins, the greater the opportunity for significant improvement in speech and communication. Speech pathologists teach kids how to make individual sounds and then make those sounds longer to form words and eventually sentences. With therapy, many children are able to communicate normally. Some are also taught sign language to help them communicate.
Nationwide Children's speech pathologists encourage parents to pay attention to the following signs and symptoms that may indicate a speech or language problem, such as childhood apraxia of speech.
- Does not coo or babble as an infant.
- Begins speaking late.
- Only voices a few different consonant and vowel sounds.
- Struggles combining sounds.
- Has problems eating.
- Has difficulty imitating speech.
- Sounds choppy, monotonous and difficult to understand.
- Appears to be groping when attempting to speak.
Not all children are the same, so it is important not to jump to conclusions and to have a speech pathologist evaluate the child if there are any signs of a speech or language problem.