Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oral Apraxia

Quick Definition for those who don't know: Oral apraxia is difficulty with the motor planning involved in movements of the face, tongue, jaw that are not involved with speech. Examples include making a kiss, blowing bubbles, and sticking out the tongue.

We had a very interesting therapy session yesterday with our early intervention therapist. I mentioned that I was hoping to try to stimulate the /l/ sound a little because Ava needs to use it regularly in the name of someone close to her. Right now she substitutes the /y/ sound for the /l/. Her therapist suggested that we try to get her to lift her tongue up by holding a lollipop up near her upper lip and getting her to reach her tongue up to lick it. I thought it sounded like a fun activity and Ava rarely gets lollipops so she was going to love the activity.

It was incredibly hard for her. I know that Ava has some oral apraxia. I know she smiled late, blew raspberries late, and made kissing sounds late. I know she has trouble imitating things like sticking out her tongue, blowing bubbles, and biting her lip. I had never seen the struggle so clearly though. She just could not get her tongue to move up at all. She wanted to. She was trying so hard her whole jaw practically quivered. She tried to compensate by using her bottom lip to try to raise the tongue up which didn’t work at all. We finally got some success by bringing the lollipop down to her tongue and then having the tongue follow the lollipop up as we raised it a little.

Michael saw his sister getting a lollipop and wanted some too. We figured letting him do it would be a good model for her. He couldn’t do it either. His attempts looked exactly like hers. It’s fascinating that his speech is pretty good with no real signs of verbal apraxia at this point (even though his early development was worrisome), but he does have oral apraxia. I knew he couldn’t blow bubbles, but since he was talking just fine, I didn’t really examine the issue closer.

I’m not sure what the significance of the oral apraxia is. I haven’t really had a chance to process this new information. I need to think and then research a little. It doesn’t really change anything. Yes, I saw it more clearly today, but it has always been there. Perhaps though, I can use the new insight to find some new strategies for working with her. If nothing else, it very clearly reminds me why it’s almost impossible to teach her a new sound (for example /l/ by lifting the tongue or /f/ by biting the lip) by simply having her watch me do it and asking her to imitate the motion. She can’t. She really just can’t.

This is a striking example of why you can’t treat apraxia like other speech disorders. With an articulation disorder or a phonological disorder the children can watch you and imitate the oral-motor actions. Often, children with apraxia can’t. You need to use alternate strategies.

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