Motor Speech Disorders

Speech requires the highest levels of cognitive execution. Similar to a pianist playing a complicated piano concerto, all systems have to be in synchrony. Motor speech disorders disturb an individual’s ability to speak and are often due to neurologic issues. Individuals with this type of disorder have difficulty planning, programming, controlling, coordinating and executing oral language or speech. For the purposes of this article, the discussion will be limited to childhood dysarthria and apraxia.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

A simplistic definition is that the individual is unable to get a message
from their brains to their mouth. It can be referred to as verbal dyspraxia
or developmental dyspraxia.

Symptoms of Childhood Apraxia of Speech

There is no weakness, incoordination or paralysis of the speech musculature. Articulation production may be inconsistent with the same word being uttered in different ways. Their receptive language is usually much better than their expressive language. The rate, rhythm and stress of their speech can be disturbed; but, there is usually good control of their vocal pitch and loudness levels. Overall, the child’s vocal quality is appropriate.

Treatment for Childhood Apraxia of Speech

The cause of the disorder is unknown but generally thought to be due to neurologic impairment. Your child will not outgrow this disorder and intensive therapeutic intervention will be necessary to develop all the senses to practice how to say sounds. Sometimes, to assist the child along the path to communication, sign language, picture boards or computers (augmentative communication) is used.


Dysarthria can be acquired or developmental and involves a disturbance in muscle control that results in weakness, slowness and/or incoordination in speech production. There is decreased strength and overall incoordination of the speech musculature that leads to imprecise speech (slurring and distorted speech).

Symptoms of Dysarthria

The child’s articulation error pattern is consistent with a generalized slurring across all sounds. There is no significant difference between their receptive or expressive language skills. The rate, rhythm and stress of their speech are disturbed. Their voice is monotone and they have difficulty controlling their vocal pitch and loudness. Their vocal quality will be affected i.e. hoarse, hypernasal etc.

Treatment of Dysarthria

Depending on the cause of the dysarthria, symptoms can greatly improve, stay the same or get worse. Treatment can consist of a wide range of oral motor strengthening exercises including, in some cases, neuro-musculature electrical stimulation to the lips and face. Other treatment options to improve articulation skills and overall speech intelligibility may be considered, as well as the use of Augmentive and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

Further information on Motor Speech Disorders

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association