What is Childhood Dysarthria?
This is a motor speech disorder triggered by paralysis, lack of muscular coordination, or neuromuscular weakness of the muscles necessary for speech production. This could result from the presence of neurological impairment, traumatic brain injury, or specific neurological conditions (such as cerebral palsy or neurofibromatosis). There are six types of dysarthria, and they are spastic, flaccid, ataxic, hyperkinetic, hypokinetic, and mixed dysarthria.
In children with spastic dysarthria, speech may be labored and slow, with poor articulation. Usually, their voice is strained or harsh and may appear as if the children are talking through their nose.
Hypernasality is the main feature of flaccid dysarthria. Children with this condition have poor articulation, and their speech frequently sounds monotonal. In ataxic dysarthria, it’s often noted that the speech is extremely irregular with respect to sound production, rhythm, rate, and breathing.
Hyperkinetic dysarthria is characterized by erratic movements of the speech mechanism. Distinguishing features of hypokinetic dysarthria are rapid speech rate, decreased loudness, reduced stress, and sound repetitions. Mixed dysarthria involves characteristics from two or more forms of dysarthria.
Common causes of childhood dysarthria are:
- Cleft palate or submucous cleft palate
- Deep pharynx
- Weak and/or short palate
- Neurological factors (such as stroke, head injury, cerebral palsy)
- Large tonsils and/or adenoids
- Recent tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy
- Nasal obstruction
- Other congenital causes
If a child has trouble speaking and shows some of the symptoms mentioned above, parents should get the child tested by an SLP for dysarthria and ensure the condition doesn’t go untreated and get any worse. The SLP will test how well the child breathes and moves his lips, mouth, and tongue. The professional will also listen to the child’s speech in single sentences, words, and conversations and examine how well he understands and talks. Based on the results, the SLP will decide the type of dysarthria the child has and how severe it is. Once the diagnosis is made, a speech therapy plan will be chalked out. The SLP can also work with the child’s family members to help them learn ways to talk with and understand the child.
The initial period of therapy may last from three to six months. If the child makes adequate progress, then therapy may continue. For instance, speech therapy can benefit children with hypernasal speech (mainly those with sound indicating mild hypernasality). Such therapy sessions can focus on helping the child learn
- Ways to reduce the speed of speech
- Exercises to make the mouth muscles stronger
- Strategies to speak louder, which may include using more breath
- Ways to pronounce sounds clearly
- Diverse communication techniques, such as writing or gestures
- Movements to chew and swallow safely
But for those who don’t respond to therapy or have severe velopharyngeal incompetence, physical management via surgery or a prosthetic device may be necessary. Such a prosthetic device will typically include a picture or letter board or a special computer with a keyboard and message display to help the child communicate with people.