Not every child who is late learning to talk or understand language has verbal dyspraxia. In fact very few have. Verbal dyspraxia is a very specific learning disability and I have found that most also have Developmental Motor Dyspraxia.
Children with verbal dyspraxia find it hard to form words and letters when speaking. The mouth and tongue are controlled by hundreds of different muscles and most of us have no trouble in performing the complex co-ordination achievement of speech.
Verbal dyspraxics do have trouble with this but it is not the muscles themselves that are at fault. Rather it is the messages being sent backwards and forwards to the brain that cause the problems. It is like being permanently tongue-tied. It is very important that all the other pupils in a school understand why the Verbal Dyspraxic has problems with speech so that the pupil is not bullied.
When observing these children speak I am given the impression that each mouth movement has to be thought out before the word is spoken. The amount of thinking involved in this activity makes it hard for the child to also concentrate on what (s)he is saying.
If you ask these children to repeat a word several times, even to repeat their own name or a simple word like “cat’ or “run” they cannot do it without having to think before each word. So instead of saying “run run run run run run” they will say, ”run……… run………. run……….. run……… run……..”. For them this simple task is very difficult. These children are usually late learning to speak so tend to get noticed and helped early in life. Having Verbal Dyspraxia does not mean that the pupil necessarily also have Developmental Motor Dyspraxia.
Mankind sees speaking as being so fundamentally basic a task that someone who has difficulty with it is unconsciously thought of as “stupid”. This is of course not at all true and if you are teaching or caring for such a child you must make sure that everyone who comes in contact with this child understands that s/he is just a clever as any of his/her classmates. Stephen Hawkins, with his electronic voice, may have inadvertently helped us accept this.
What to look for – Does he or she:
- Say the same word in different ways?
- Get frustrated when trying to describe something verbally?
- Have more problems with speech when excited?
- Learn to repeat rather than create sentences?
- Mix up the order of sounds within a word?
- Mix up the order of words within a sentence?
- Understand instructions but find it hard to reply verbally to them?
- Seem clumsy when running?
- Have poor coordination skills?
- Also did s/he or she when a baby
- Have difficulty swallowing or sucking?
- Rarely babble or say consonants in the babbling?
Verbal Dyspraxia is not the same thing as stuttering.
Help with Verbal Dyspraxia
These children always need specialist help from speech therapists and often physiotherapists and occupational therapists as well. They have to learn to think about and control how the lips and tongue works to form all the different sounds and words. Watching how the mouth and tongue move when forming different sounds helps these children and I use a mirror to make sure that the child can see how his/her mouth, tongue and lips form each sound. This can take some time. Because they have to concentrate so much on working out how to say each sound the quality of content of what they say can suffer (just as the content of written work can suffer in a dyslexic) until they have mastered these new skills.
It is extremely difficult for a child to make friends when s/he has severe speech problems. Social situations often demand a rapid and exact spoken response and children who cannot keep up in a group situation tend to become isolated. This is one of the most significant problems these children have. They have to be taught how to respond and memorize key phrases. Extensive role play is needed and friends have to understand why the child has problems.
I have found that they get on very well with other dyspraxic children.
How to help
- Always bring in a speech therapist.
- Try to be patient with these children and do not keep interrupting or finishing a sentence for them.
- Explain to the them why they are having the problems and make sure they understand that they are not stupid and that it is not their fault.
- Organize lesson time when you help the child to articulate and improve his/her speech.
- Avoid nagging and correcting as this can make the child tense and angry.
- Hand eye coordination games actually helps these children to talk better because these games encourage the child to learn how their bodies responds to actions and teaches them to understand how their bodies relate to the word about them.
- These children tend to panic easily and respond badly to sudden changes in routine. Try to keep to routines.
- They get scared easily and are not happy working outside their comfort zone. New information and teaching should be carried out one small step at a time. Teaching should not be moved forward until you are totally sure that the child has understood everything so far taught.
- Multi-sensory teaching should be used when ever possible.
More can found about this in Dawn’s books on Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.
For more information, refer to “Dyspraxia a Guide for Teachers and Parents” and “Dyslexia – How to Win” by Dawn Matthews which are both available from this web site
This article is taken from Dawn’s book “Dyspraxia – A guide for parents and Teachers”, which is available as a downloadable pdf, from this web site.