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Childhood dyspraxia of speech, also known as childhood aphraxia, is a speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to form words or correctly pronounce sounds. This developmental issue, which begins before birth, affects boys four times as often as it affects girls. Many researchers believe childhood dyspraxia of speech is the result of underdevelopment or immaturity in the motor cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for sending out signals and messages to the rest of the body.
Childhood dyspraxia of speech is generally divided into two categories. Children with oral dyspraxia are unable to move their mouths correctly to create certain sounds, while children with verbal dyspraxia have a hard time putting sounds and syllables together to say words. A third type, motor dyspraxia, affects the body; children with motor dyspraxia have difficulties with perception and depth, and they are often uncoordinated, clumsy and unbalanced. Children may simultaneously suffer from more than one type of dyspraxia.
Babies with dyspraxia may not make as many sounds as other babies, and they may demonstrate difficulty with oral movement such as chewing or swallowing. They may begin to speak later than other infants. Small children with the disorder often leave difficult sounds out of words, skip entire syllables, or abbreviate words so they are easier to say.
Older children with dyspraxia are often difficult to understand. They are able to understand spoken words but are unable to respond, which can be intensely frustrating. Children with language dyspraxia lack verbal prosody and may insert spaces in the wrong spots or stress the wrong word or syllable. They often pause during speech and mentally grope for words or sounds.
Anxiety makes it worse. Sometimes they can say sounds correctly in a comfortable, no-stress environment, but cannot make the same sounds or words when they feel stressed or upset. Some children may have difficulty learning how to read or write. They may have difficulty mastering fine motor skill tasks such as cutting, tying shoelaces or writing. Childhood dyspraxia of speech can take a significant toll on the emotional well-being of affected children; their social skills often suffer, and they may demonstrate behavioral or emotional problems.
Children generally do not outgrow dyspraxia as they mature. Depending on the level of severity, affected children may require frequent and intensive speech therapy to coordinate and strengthen their muscles so they can correctly form sounds. Some therapists recommend the use of communication boards, computer devices or sign language as a supplemental part of therapy.