Infant apraxia is one of a number of motor speech disorders that infants may be born with or acquire after birth. Those with apraxia have difficulty making sounds and controlling their jaw, lips, and tongue to form words. As they get older, parents may notice that they being speaking later than other children, speak slower, make more mistakes when saying words, and understand language much better than they can produce it.
There are many infant apraxia causes related to problems with an infant’s nervous system that prevent the brain from sending correct signals to the muscles that control the mouth. These infants do not have cognitive problems. They can understand words and understand how words are supposed to sound, but they are unable to reliably produce these sounds themselves.
Though research is ongoing and incomplete, some experts have found a link between infant apraxia and mutations in the FOXP2 gene. This gene is related to the development of the brain and nervous system, but scientists are still unsure exactly why abnormalities in this gene affect speech and language. In general, the medical community divides cases of infant apraxia by the risk factors that are believed to be the cause of the disorder: neurological conditions, neurodevelopmental disorders, and idiopathic causes.
Neurological Infant Apraxia Causes
Because apraxia is a disorder related to the brain’s ability to finely control muscles, many cases of apraxia are caused by neurological conditions and problems. Traumatic brain injuries and neonatal strokes can possibly cause apraxia if the speech centers or the parts of the brain that control muscles are damaged. Infections or illnesses that affect the brain are also possible infant apraxia causes.
Some neurological causes are congenital and occur before birth during the brain’s early development, but sometimes the injuries responsible for apraxia occur during or after birth. If there are complications with a delivery and the head of the baby endures significant trauma, this can result in brain damage and infant apraxia. There are many different types of problems during delivery that can cause brain damage including direct trauma or compression of the head, oxygen deprivation and hypoxia, and long and difficult delivery. Medical malpractice and inexperience of the medical staff may also contribute to head and brain injuries that occur during delivery. In some cases of infant apraxia doctors can identify brain abnormalities after conducting a MRI scan, but this is not always the case.
Neurodevelopmental Infant Apraxia Causes
Infant apraxia may also be a secondary effect of complex neurodevelopmental disorders which have genetic, mitochondrial, and metabolic causes. Some potential disorders that may contribute to apraxia include galactosemia, epilepsy, fragile X, and autism. Some studies of apraxia have suggested that there is a hereditary factor to its development and that it may be partly passed down from one generation to the next. Though FOXP2 has already been recognized as a genetic link to apraxia, many experts believe the genetic causality of apraxia is much more complex than our current understanding and that it may be affected by abnormalities in multiple other genes. Whatever genetic connections exist, infant apraxia likely also has environmental and developmental risk factors.
Idiopathic Infant Apraxia Causes
Unfortunately, there is still a lot that is not known about infant apraxia. Like other neurological disorders, it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause or mechanism that results in apraxia. Though neurological and genetic factors have been demonstrated to a limited degree, there are still many children who have no genetic or neurological evidence that explains their development of apraxia. When doctors are unable to determine the cause of apraxia, it is known as idiopathic apraxia.