Dyspraxia is a disorder in which there is an impairment or immaturity in the body’s ability to coordinate movements. In the brain the messages meant to direct movement are not properly processed so the messages to the muscles cannot be sent efficiently nor can they be sent properly. Uncoordinated movements result.
These inefficient and incorrect messages include messages to the facial muscles, mouth muscles and nerves that must work together to produce speech so that speech may become unintelligible, repetitive, crowded with mispronunciations, very fast or very slow, and/or spoken at an odd pitch or tone. When dyspraxia is related specifically to speech it may sometimes be known as apraxia of speech.
Dyspraxia in the United KingdomUp to 10% of the population of the United Kingdom may be affected by dyspraxia, with up to 2% of the population affected severely. Among school aged children this translates to one student in every 30 affected by dyspraxia. Males in particular are affected by dyspraxia, up to four times more often than females. In the past dyspraxia was often known as Clumsy Child Syndrome due to the uncoordinated muscle movements involved, but today it is more often known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder or Motor Learning Difficulties.
Symptoms of Dyspraxia/Apraxia of SpeechOne of the most common symptoms of dyspraxia/apraxia of speech is an inability to string together sounds and syllables to make coherent words. This inability may not be consistent, however, so individuals may be able to say a word correctly, then mispronounce it within a short time of each other. Or an individual may be able to say a word correctly but the next day they may mispronounce it consistently.
Individuals suffering from dyspraxia/apraxia of speech may also have varying rates, rhythms and stresses to their speech. This may make the cadence of their speech seem off, or their accents seem strange. Children with dyspraxia/developmental apraxia of speech may also have trouble using language, including while reading, writing, spelling and/or listening in addition to speaking. Some children, however, will be able to understand language much more efficiently than they can actually use it.
Treating Dyspraxia/Apraxia of SpeechThose suspected of being affected by dyspraxia/apraxia of speech should be seen by a speech and language therapist as soon as possible. These specialists can be accessed via referral from a GP or Health Visitor, from another medical professional or privately. If dyspraxia/apraxia of speech is diagnosed, speech therapy will likely be urged as a means of treatment. For most individuals, speech language therapy will help improve their speech and use of language to some degree.
If dyspraxia/apraxia of speech is so severe that verbal communication is impossible, a speech language therapist will be able to create another means of communication for the individual. Sign language, charts and computer programmes may all be options for other means of communication.
Further Information on Dyspraxia/Apraxia of SpeechThe Dyspraxia Foundation (www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk) is the major charity associated with dyspraxia in the United Kingdom. The Foundation supports those affected by dyspraxia, promotes better diagnostic and treatment facilities for the disorder, helps professionals work with those affected by dyspraxia and promotes awareness of the disorder.
There are also a number of organisations in the UK that provide further information and support on a variety of speech difficulties. Most medical professionals and speech therapists will also be able to provide further information.