The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA), along with members of its Professional Advisory Board, has engaged in discussion about the misleading impression that children with apraxia of speech make very slow progress in speech therapy. Some children are diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) by speech-language pathologists who are using “slow progress” as the differential characteristic of the disorder. Is it true that children with CAS make very slow progress in therapy? Here is what we think:
- Children with apraxia of speech often make slower progress than children with other types of speech sound disorders. (Note: slower than other types of disorders; not slow in and of itself)
- Children suspected to have CAS but who make very rapid progress in speech therapy that generalizes easily to new contexts, both in and outside of the therapy room, most likely have a phonological disorder and NOT CAS.
- With appropriate goals, informed by detailed assessment – AND – appropriate, well executed speech therapy that incorporates principles of motor learning, children with apraxia of speech can be expected to make good, steady progress in therapy, especially those with age appropriate or near age appropriate cognitive and language skills.
- Both parents and SLPs should not blindly accept that, “progress will be or is slow because the child has apraxia.”
Speech progress may be very slow, even with appropriate planning and therapy, when other co-existing problems add to the challenges, including delayed cognition and/or receptive language, poor attention or behavior, and other significant speech diagnoses such as dysarthria. Additionally, children with CAS who are in poor health and not able to take full advantage of the learning and practice opportunities available to them, may demonstrate very slow progress in speech production skills.
With appropriate goals and intervention, parents of children with apraxia as the primary diagnosis should expect progress in their child’s use of intelligible words within a three-month period. (Children with apraxia plus other complex challenges likely will have more limited progress.) If this progress does not occur for a child whose primary diagnosis is CAS, an SLP should consider the following questions:
- Is the diagnosis correct?
- Are the goals and stimuli appropriate?
- Are there additional diagnoses that should be considered, in addition to CAS?
- If there are other diagnoses, is one of them really the bigger challenge to the child’s speech production skills?
- Is the intensity of speech practice, both in therapy and at home, sufficient?
- Is the frequency of direct speech intervention sufficient?
Remember that although speech progress can be slower for children with apraxia than it is for children with other speech problems, there should be noticeable and ongoing progress in the child’s ability to independently produce intelligible words. While their words may not be “perfect”, one can observe increased movement toward intelligibility. Parents will want to be in contact with their SLP to discuss expectations and what modifications the SLP will make if progress is not being made.