Childhood dysarthria is a form of neurogenic speech impairment manifesting in children. Generally, this type of speech impairment is caused by problems in an underdeveloped human brain when reconciling with the also developing motor control centers in the brain. Frequently, childhood dysarthria is associated with cerebral palsy patients, who exhibit some degree of the condition in well over one-third of cases. These problems can lead to problems in the neuromuscular areas across several areas such as speed, range of motion, and steadiness. Any area of motor skills may be affected by dysarthria. Either a child may be born with dysarthria or they may develop the condition prior to speech and language acquisition skills development, or following the development of early speech functions.
Causes of Dysarthria in Children
Dysarthria can be caused by several other disorders and medical problems including among others:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Symptoms of Dysarthria
Because there are many different ways that dysarthria can present itself in individuals, the signs and symptoms that will occur can vary greatly. However, there are some common signs that medical professionals should identify immediately including:
- Difficulty with movement of the tongue and jaw
- Speech pathologies, including slurring, mumbling, or irregular cadence to speech or sound production
- Speech irregularities, including distorted rates of pitch, tone, speed, and rhythm to speech patterns
Differences between Dysarthria and Apraxia
Apraxia is another motor skill developmental disorder linked to cerebral palsy and other cases, which can appear similar to and be mistaken for dysarthria. However, the two are very different. Apraxia is a disability related to the impairment of the individual to generate motor programs whereas dysarthria is a disruption of muscle control. In summation of the difference, apraxia is a programming issue, but dysarthria is a movement disorder.
- Speech errors are eradicate and unpredictable
- At times, speech will become smooth and clear
- Mainly affects articulation of words
- Speaking faster could actual reduce speaking problems in some individuals
- Speech errors are consistent
- There are no times of clear, precise speech
- Affects all elements of speech
- The faster the speech, the more problems likely to arise
Treatments for Dysarthria
There are several methods of treatment for dysarthria. What works on a case of dysarthria is very much dependent on the individual case.
Factors to consider when creating a treatment plan include:
- The cause of the disorder
- The severity of the dysarthria
- The time and effort put into treatment by the individual, usually contingent upon age and other outstanding medical complications
- The specific areas of speech being affected by the dysarthria
The best way to create a treatment plan is to visit a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP will work with the patient to diagnose the problem, pinpoint the causes, and create a treatment plan designed around that particular case. While every plan will be unique, several treatment options are commonly suggested by SLPs. For example, the SLP may work with an individual to control their breathing or to work on slowing down or speeding up speaking.
Other examples include:
- Strengthening muscles that affect speech, such as the tongue
- Practicing lip movements
- Improving speaking functions
- Working on alternative speech options, such as sign language
- Working with friends and family members of the individual on being able to communicate with the patient to decrease the intrapersonal and interpersonal stress for the patient and loved ones
The Effects of Speech Therapy on Patients with Dysarthria
Studies have been conducted to demonstrate the rate of success for individuals with dysarthria who go through treatment. In a study conducted by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, outpatient speech pathology treatment in patients presenting an otherwise unintelligible level of speech patterns showed marked improvement in two-third of cases increasing their capabilities to an intelligible level of speech capacity. Based on the results of the ASHA study and other research being published by the medical community, the odds of a successful treatment plan through speech pathology appear to be high for patients requiring childhood dysarthria treatment.