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Verbal dyspraxia

Verbal dyspraxia is a disorder of speech, rather than of language. In this condition, there is a difficulty in carrying out the series of movements required to speak clearly. There is nothing wrong with the chest, vocal cords, throat, or mouth themselves; it is the control of these by the brain that is the problem.

Speaking is the most virtuosic movement children need to carry out. The technical mastery involved in coordinating the movements of the chest, diaphragm, vocal cords, tongue, palate, throat, and lips in order to speak is comparable to that of a violinist playing a piece of music. It has been estimated that the movements for speech require the simultaneous or closely sequenced coordination of over a hundred pairs of different breathing and speaking muscles.

A child with dyspraxia can often make the individual sounds in isolation, but has difficulty when he wants to coordinate these to speak clearly.

Dyspraxia of other purposeful movements (motor dyspraxia) is one of the causes of clumsiness, as I shall describe in Chapter 11. Verbal dyspraxia is, therefore, sometimes associated with general clumsiness. Children with verbal dyspraxia may have a tendency to dribble saliva because of poor swallowing coordination. This usually improves with age.

The child with dyspraxia usually has good language but indistinct speech. Words may be difficult to understand, as sounds are omitted or distorted by the ‘clumsy mouth’. Language problems may coexist with dyspraxia, making the picture more complicated.

If the speech therapist finds that a child has verbal dyspraxia, he or she will commence regular therapy sessions to improve the clarity of the child’s speech. This usually involves working on individual sounds at first and then words and phrases.

Often, children with verbal dyspraxia do not realize how indistinct their speech is. It is sometimes necessary to give them feedback about their speech. Recordings of the child’s voice may be helpful. Sometimes children are helped by seeing their mouth movements in a mirror.

How parents can help

Parents play an important part in providing an opportunity for their child to continue exercises at home. The speech therapist will advise you how to go about this. Activities should be enjoyable for the child and there should be praise for effort. Parents can help their child to carry over his improved speech into everyday communication. This is difficult for the child at first, and the speech therapist will guide you when and how to remind him to speak slowly and clearly.

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