What is Apraxia of Speech?
Acquired apraxia of speech (AOS) is a motor-speech disorder that results in the inability to control the muscles used to form words. When the messages from the brain to the mouth are disrupted, the person cannot move his or her lips or tongue in the correct manner to make letter sounds. The muscles are often perfectly fine, but the person has trouble controlling them. This makes it hard to initiate and sequence the sounds that make words.
Apraxia of speech can be mild, not significantly disrupting a person’s ability to communicate, or it can have a devastating effect. It can be incredibly frustrating to know what you want to say, but be unable to say it. Someone with severe apraxia of speech may be unable to make any sounds or words at all.
There are several types of apraxia. Oral apraxia, for example, is an inability to voluntarily control the muscles used to move the mouth. The person can yawn and sneeze, because these actions involve automatic movements, but has trouble with voluntary movements such as chewing and smiling. Other types of apraxia can affect a person’s ability to dress, wash, or complete other actions that use specific muscle groups.
A person can have just one type of apraxia, or several, depending on which parts of the brain are damaged. A person with apraxia of speech might also have oral apraxia. Other speech-related difficulties found together with apraxia of speech include aphasia, an impaired ability to speak and understand language, and dysarthria, or slurred speech.
What Causes Apraxia in Adults?
Acquired apraxia of speech happens when the part of the brain that controls coordinated muscle movement is damaged. Stroke is a common cause of apraxia. It may also be caused by head injury, brain tumors, dementia or progressive neurological disorders.
What You Might Notice
Someone with apraxia of speech has trouble moving the tongue, lips, and/or jaw. You may see groping movements in the mouth as the person tries to speak.
Someone with this type of impairment will speak slowly and haltingly. Their speech won’t have a normal flow or rhythm.
Errors are inconsistent. The person may be able to say something once, then not be able to say it again, or it might come out differently the next time.
It’s usually easier when the person isn’t trying too hard. Everyday phrases seem to pop out more easily, especially when the person is relaxed. Even then, long or complex words and phrases can be more difficult to produce.
If You Have Apraxia
With speech-language therapy, a person with apraxia of speech can improve dramatically. Even though it’s difficult, you can learn to communicate again.
Here are a few tips many people with apraxia of speech find helpful:
- Speak slowly. Think about what you want to say before you say it.
- Break long words and phrases into shorter chunks. You may find it easier to use shorter words.
- Use facial expressions and gestures to help clarify your message. Point to what you want, and if you need to, draw pictures to make your meaning clear.
- If you’re having trouble saying something, try saying it another way. Sometimes rephrasing can make it easier to get your message across.
- Try singing. Using melody can make it easier to articulate words clearly.
- Stay calm. If you’re having trouble, it’s okay to give up for now and come back to it later. Avoid important conversations when you’re tired or feeling emotional.
- If you can, write down what you want to say or use an augmentative communication system to get your message across.
4 Ways to Help Someone with Apraxia
Support and encouragement from family and friends is important for someone with apraxia. There are things you can do to help the person communicate. Try the following strategies:
- Be patient. Give the person plenty of time to communicate.
- Establish the topic, so you both know what you’re talking about.
- Ask yes-or-no questions to clarify what you’ve heard, or ask questions that include two or three choices.
- If you don’t understand something, repeat what you have understood, and ask the person to confirm that your understanding is correct. Then focus on the parts of the message that are still unclear. Don’t pretend you understand what the person is trying to say. Try a different approach, or agree to come back to the topic later.
Want to learn more about apraxia of speech or other communication disorders in adults? Visit the Aphasia & Apraxia section of our Knowledge Center to discover other helpful resources. We also have apps for apraxia therapy you can download to get started on improving communication today.