Dysarthria which is also known as slurred speech is a condition that impairs the speech pattern due to brain or nerve damage of the speech muscles. The muscles of the mouth, face, and the respiratory system become weak and move slowly, or not move at all due to the damage. It has been observed that the affected children do not speak much.
It is a neurogenic speech disorder that causes dysfunctional speech musculature, that is, tongue, lips, soft palate, facial muscles, and larynx. There is low muscle tone or even paralysis of the speech muscles that coordinate with the speech functions. This disorder in children can be characterized by early sucking, chewing, and swallowing problems. Moreover, the affected children tend to 'drool' for a long time and continue consuming soft foods as they are easy to digest. Further, they also gag and choke frequently.
The causes of this disorder in children are tumors of the nervous system or a head trauma. Altered muscle tone, incoordination of the speech muscles, and conditions like cerebral palsy are also some of the causes.
Based on the site of lesion or area of nervous system damage, there are many types of dysarthria in children.
The first type is Flaccid dysarthria that involves the loss of muscle tone and causes weakness in muscles. Here, the child has a breathy, weak speech which lacks intonation (melody) and has imprecise consonants. Spastic dysarthria is a condition involving excess muscle tension and over-sensitive reflexes. The voice sounds strained or strangled and the reflexes are easily elicited, thereby leading to an interference with speech production.
Ataxic dysarthria is when there is difficulty in coordination of the rate, range, and force of speech movements. Hyperkinetic dysarthria involves loss of inhibitory control, that leads to involuntary and abnormal movements that inhibit the speech. These involuntary movements are in the form of tics, athetosis, dystonia, and tremors. Hyperkinetic dysarthria limits the amount, range, and force of movement of the affected child.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of this motor speech disorder are as follows:
- Slurred speech that is not articulated clearly
- Slowed speech
- Excessively loud or soft speech
- Difficulty in controlling the speech volume
- The voice quality is hoarse, nasal, breathy, etc.
- The child speaks with a lot of effort and lacks breath control
- Difficulty in controlling pitch - monotone, high, or low pitch
The treatment would involve specific speech therapy exercises. The speech therapy for children helps improve the articulation, voice, pitch quality, and volume. The child is observed for the use of strategies, so as to make the speech clear, like looking at the person while talking, taking a breath before speaking, reduction in speed rate, and speaking in short sentences with periodic breaks.
The parents and teachers are also guided regarding the various strategies to be employed while speaking to the affected child. In case the child is affected by a severe case, the speech pathologist may use alternative means of communication like simple gestures, alphabet boards, and computer-based equipment.
It is necessary that parents pay attention when the child speaks. If there is a difficulty in understanding, make the child realize the need to alter his/her speech speed or tone. Also, let the child know that some parts of the message have been understood and give more time to the child to respond. One should visit a qualified speech pathologist for guidance and work with him or her, to help improve their child's condition.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.