Headstart for Life

My child has verbal dyspraxia? What does that mean?

What is verbal dyspraxia?

Verbal dyspraxia or childhood apraxia of speech is a motor disorder concerning the planning and execution of movements to achieve intelligible speech. Although there is no weakness or paralysis, children with verbal dyspraxia finds it difficult to perform smooth, accurate and coordinated movements.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA):

The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words.


What signs/symptoms to look out for?

Verbal dyspraxia remains a complex speech motor disorder. Each child may present varying characteristics. Most common signs include:

  • Difficulty imitating sounds and words, even the early developing sounds such as vowels and consonants /m, p, b, h/.
  • The difficulty may be seen when the child shows behaviours such as 1) looking intently at the person talking then struggles to imitate the sound/word/string of words 2) long pausing/appearing to think of what to say 3) crying/escaping from the task requiring speech.
  • Speech sound errors are not consistent. There is no pattern seen. For example, some children may have difficulty producing the “k” sound across all words. He/she may say “t” instead of “k”. For children presenting signs of verbal dyspraxia, the errors are always changing such that when calling referring to “mama”, it may vary from “maba”, “baba”, etc.
  • Monotonous verbalizations are common. Aside from speech sounds (vowels and consonants), the aspects of volume, pitch and pausing may also be compromised.
  • They have difficult stating words with more than one syllable, specifically bisyllabics (table, bubble) and polysyllabics (banana, tomato).
  • Children may appear “shy”, “quiet” or “lazy to talk”. Since speaking is difficult, they may resort to other means of communicating such as pointing, gesturing, writing, crying and whining.

How is it diagnosed?


Speech and language pathologists may perform the following:

  • Observing the articulators (jaw, palate, tongue, teeth, lips) and warrant any sign/s of weakness, injury, etc.
  • Asking the child to imitate sounds, words, phrases or sentences.
  • Singing along with the child to ascertain qualities such as volume, pitch, pausing, etc.
  • Playing with an unfamiliar individual (therapist) and listening to the child’s speech.
  • Letting the child play and communicate with familiar individuals (parents) and determine whether speech varies when engaging with unfamiliar others.
  • Providing more structured tasks such as standardised tests such as Goldman Fristoe Articulation Test, Kaufman Speech Praxis Test, etc.

Children with verbal dyspraxia of speech progress differently. This means that it is a changing condition and as children progress, their difficulty may change and they may sound different.

What causes verbal dyspraxia?

It is important to note that verbal dyspraxia is a motor speech disorder. The difficulty comes from the child’s brain not being able to sequence messages he wants to express by coordinating the mouth muscles to work together to form clear speech. The cause of this disorder is still unknown. However, in some cases, it is a result of genetic disorders, some syndromes or brain injury.

Children with verbal dyspraxia will not simply outgrow this difficulty. It is a condition that will not show improvement if appropriate treatment and intervention are not provided. Speech-language therapists are trained professionals who can provide intensive intervention that can show significant progress.


This article is just an overview of verbal dyspraxia. We hope that you will continue reading and learning about it. Stay tuned for the next article discussing on some management guidelines and techniques to help individuals with verbal dyspraxia.


"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Anna

Anna finds special significance in continuous learning through reading articles, observing adult-child interactions and communicating with professionals, children and parents.

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