Motor Speech Disorders: A Guide To Apraxia

Speech and language skills are crucial for social interaction, learning, cognitive development and more. Unfortunately, many Americans struggle with various types of speech disorders that impede their ability to communicate effectively. In particular, this article will take a deeper look at apraxia, which is a rare motor speech disorder affecting approximately 200,000 Americans. Motor speech disorders indicate an underlying neurological cause is present, preventing the brain from proper coordinating with body parts responsible for speech.

Types of Apraxia and Common Causes

There are two different types of apraxia – acquired apraxia and development apraxia. Developmental apraxia generally only affects children, whereas acquired apraxia can affect individuals of all ages.

Acquired apraxia is generally caused by an accident, which resulted in a brain injury, such as an accident involving head trauma or a medical condition involving a brain tumor. The affected individual loses speech abilities he or she once possessed. Developmental apraxia affects only children and causes the affected children to be unable to properly express themselves despite their ability to understand speech and language. With the correct treatment, developmental apraxia can be cured.

Common Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

To diagnose acquired apraxia, a physician may recommend getting an MRI to determine whether the brain has been injured and, if so, the location and extent of the injury. In particular, the physicians will look for damage to the posterior parietal cortex and to other areas of the cerebrum.

To diagnose developmental apraxia, parents must be on the lookout for the following symptoms when their child is between 18 months and 2 years old:

  • Late talking. Your child should speak his or her first words by 12 months of age and should begin to raise his or her voice or use hand gestures by 15 months of age. You should notice your child pronounces vowels with ease.
  • Inconsistent errors when repeating the same words. When attempting to pronounce the same words over and over, your child will make different and inconsistent mistakes.
  • Incorrect inflections or stresses on certain words or sounds.
  • An excessive use of nonverbal communication. If your child is having a hard time with speech, he or she may begin to rely on nonverbal communication methods instead to get your attention and to display their desires.
  • Distortion of vowel sounds or the omission of consonants both at the beginnings and ends of words.
  • A limited vocabulary. Between the ages of 2 and 5, your child's vocabulary should grow from 200 words to over 20,000 words.
  • Difficulties with fine motor skills, and with chewing and swallowing.

There isn't a single test with the ability to determine whether your child has developmental apraxia. The only thing the doctors can do is look at whether the symptoms match up.

Possible Treatments

Fortunately, developmental apraxia is much easier to treat than acquired apraxia. If the brain damage is too severe, there may not be any treatment available for acquired apraxia. Children with developmental apraxia generally attend speech therapy at least two to three times a week. Common exercises practiced during therapy include:

  • Practicing the same words over and over again until the pronunciation improves.
  • Repeating melodies and rhythms.
  • Relying on multi-sensory approaches. For example, your child may look into a mirror while trying to form words to determine whether their lips and mouths are forming the proper shape.
  • Practicing speech drills to acquire new motor skills associated with speech.


Although apraxia may seem like a serious motor speech disorder, children with developmental apraxia tend to outgrow the disease as their speech and language skills improve. Apraxia treatments can be quite intensive and are long-term; however, persistency is key. A speech therapist can help you design an appropriate treatment plan to help improve your child's speech and language skills. Click here for more info on speech pathalogy options in your area.