Know Your CAS

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When I was pregnant, I remember dreaming about my new baby. My husband and I wondered aloud if she would be a musician like him, an athlete like me, or have some individual talent all her own. We had absolutely no doubts about what strong communications skills she’d have, however. Her mother was an SLP after all.

During her first year, my daughter lagged in all developmental milestones. I went to at least five different conferences on early intervention, but I couldn’t figure out why my daughter wasn’t a chatterbox. She met her first word criteria at one saying “hi” to everyone she met.

My husband’s mother reported he was late to talk and didn’t really say much of anything until after two. I had heard of late talkers, but because I worked at the elementary level, I never treated preschool kids. I brushed aside my pediatrician’s suggestion to seek treatment because I was convinced my daughter must be like her Daddy and that I could help her.

I finally took her in for an evaluation when she was close to three and received a diagnosis of childhood apraxia of speech and global motor planning deficits. After starting therapy based on motor learning principles, she made progress immediately.

Upset that I missed this diagnosis in my own child, I went on to endlessly and obsessively research childhood apraxia of speech. I was disappointed to find maybe eight pages on the subject in my graduate school materials. I know CAS is rare, but SLPs need to know about it and need to have the tools to diagnose and treat it correctly.

That summer I attended the national conference for CAS. The next summer I applied and was accepted into the Apraxia Intensive Training Institute sponsored by CASANA, the largest nonprofit dedicated exclusively to CAS. I was trained under three leading experts: Dr. Ruth Stoeckel, David Hammer and Kathy Jakielski.

If I could get one message out to pediatric SLPs, it would be for them to research and become familiar with the principles of motor learning and change their treatments accordingly for a client with CAS or suspected CAS. I know many like me get so little training or even information on it in graduate school. I’ve met other SLPs who were told it was so rare they would probably never treat it or even that it didn’t exist.

ASHA recognized CAS as a distinctive disorder in 2007. Taking the time to learn more about how treatment for childhood apraxia of speech differs from other approaches for speech and language disorders is crucial for kids with this motor speech disorder.  The importance of a correct diagnosis leads to a successful treatment plan. To briefly summarize, sessions should focus on movement sequences rather than sound sequences taking into account the child’s phonetic repertoire and encouraging frequent repetition.

For more information visit apraxia-kids.org and become familiar with ASHA’s technical report on the subject.

 

Laura Smith MA, CCC-SLP is a speech/language pathologist in the Denver metro area specializing in childhood apraxia of speech. CASANA-recognized for advanced training and expertise in childhood apraxia of speech, she splits her time between the public schools and private practice. She speaks at conferences and consults for school districts or other professionals. Email her at lauraslpmommy@gmail.com, Like her on Facebook, follow her on Pinterest, or visit her website at SLPMommyofApraxia.com.

 

 

Tales From Apraxia Boot Camp

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In August of this year, I was selected to be a part of The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America’s 2014 Intensive Training Institute, otherwise known as “Apraxia Boot Camp.” Twenty-four speech-language pathologists, including myself, trained with three mentors–Ruth Stoeckel, Kathy Jakielski, and Dave Hammer–at Duquesne University over four days. In its third year, the goal of the boot camp is to spread a high level of knowledge about Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) assessment and treatment throughout the United States and Canada. This conference accomplished that and so much more.

This experience was different than any other continuing education seminars that I have attended. We did not listen to speakers discuss CAS. Instead, Ruth, Kathy and Dave became our mentors. This was powerful. They moderated discussions on evaluation and treatment approaches. We reviewed research papers and had long debates on the principles of motor learning. We highlighted and critiqued therapy methods for those brave enough to show videos of themselves. We problem solved and brought up more questions than we knew were possible.

In smaller groups, our mentors provided insights and personal perspectives on how they work. In this intimate setting, we felt comfortable asking questions and sharing our experiences. The mentors shared constructive criticism along with thoughtful suggestions. In all, they made me think, reflect and question everything I do. Why do I give that test? Why do I treat that way? What is the research behind it? They encouraged us to become critical thinkers.

As therapists, we often get used to using the same materials and therapy techniques we learned in graduate school or during our early experiences. Those methods are not always effective with every child we treat nor are they all proven effective with evidence based-research. Specifically, children with CAS require different therapy techniques than other children with articulation or phonological delays.

Ruth, Kathy and Dave provided valuable information in a small, engaging setting. Their mentoring and passion for CAS has inspired me and I hope to pass along this valuable information to others through mentoring, improving my competency in treatment and diagnosis of CAS, and, in the end, helping children to communicate.

Based on my experience, I’d recommend asking yourself a few questions when selecting your next continuing education event:

  • What am I passionate about? Is there a child or an area of speech pathology that truly inspires me?
  • How will it improve my skill set?
  • How will it help me better serve my clients?
  • Who is doing the most current, researched-based evaluation or therapy techniques?
  • How will it further our profession?

 

Amanda Zimmerman, MA, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Columbus, OH. She can be reached at azimmerman@columbusspeech.org.

Why Suspected Childhood Apraxia of Speech Requires Careful Assessment

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Recently I got one of those phone calls that speech-language pathologists often dread. It went something like this:

Parent: Hi. I am looking for a speech therapist who uses PROMPT [Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets] to treat my son’s childhood apraxia of speech. Are you PROMPT-certified?

Me: I am PROMPT-trained and I do treat motor speech disorders but perhaps you can first tell me a little bit about your child? What is his age? What type of speech difficulties does he have? Who diagnosed him and recommended the treatment?

Parent: He is turning 3. He was diagnosed by a neurodevelopmental pediatrician a few weeks ago. She recommended speech therapy four times a week for 30 minutes, using PROMPT.

Me: And what did the speech therapy evaluation reveal?

Parent: We did not do a speech therapy evaluation yet.

Sadly, I get these types of phone calls at least once a month. Frantic parents of toddlers ages 18 months to 3+ years call to inquire about PROMPT therapy based on a neurodevelopmental pediatrician’s diagnosis. The speech-language diagnosis, method of treatment and treatment were typically specified by the physician in the absence of a comprehensive speech language evaluation and/or past speech-language therapy treatments.

The conversation that follows is often uncomfortable. I listen to the parent’s description of the symptoms and explain that the child needs a comprehensive speech language assessment by a certified SLP before being treated. I explain to the parent that, depending on the child’s age and the findings, the assessment may or may not substantiate CAS because symptoms are similar in a number of other speech and communication disorders.

Parents react in a number of ways. Some hurriedly thank me for my time and resoundingly hang up. Some stay on the line and ask me detailed questions. Some request an evaluation and become clients. A number of them find that their child never had CAS! Past misdiagnoses have ranged from autism spectrum disorder (CAS was suspected because of imprecise speech and excessive jargon) to severe phonological disorder to dysarthria secondary to cerebral palsy.

CAS is a disorder that disrupts speech motor control and creates difficulty with volitional, intelligible speech production. Research indicates that while children with CAS have difficulty forming words and sentences at the speech level, they also struggle with areas of receptive and expressive language. In other words, “pure” apraxia of speech is rare.

This condition needs to be diagnosed by an SLP. In fact, due to the disorder’s complexity, it is strongly recommended that parents seek an assessment by an SLP specializing in assessment and treatment of motor speech disorders. Here’s why.

  • CAS has a number of overlapping symptoms with other speech sound disorders, such as severe phonological disorder and dysarthria.
  • Symptoms that may initially appear as CAS may change during the course of intervention, which is why diagnosing toddlers under 3 years of age is problematic. Instead, a “suspected” or “working” diagnosis is recommended in order to avoid misdiagnosis.
  • Diagnosis of CAS is nuanced, complex and challenging, though a new instrument—Dynamic Evaluation of Motor Speech Skill (DEMSS)—shows promise with respect to differential diagnosis of severe speech impairments in children.

When children with less severe impairments, SLPs need to determine where the breakdown is taking place by designing tasks assessing:

  • Automatic versus volitional control.
  • Simple versus complex speech productions.
  • Consistency of productions on repetitions of same word.
  • Vowel productions.
  • Imitation abilities.
  • Prosody.
  • Phonetic inventory before and after intervention.
  • Types and levels of cuing required for response.

Given the complexity of CAS assessment and treatment described here, you can see that the PROMPT approach may not even be applicable to some children. Thus, I strongly urge developmental clinicians to first refer a child for a speech language assessment—and refrain from making recommendations for specific types and frequencies of treatment—when difficulty with speech production is observed.

For more information on childhood apraxia of speech, please visit the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America website or visit the ASHA website to find a professional specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of CAS near you.

 

Tatyana Elleseff, MA, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist with Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare and runs a private practice, Smart Speech Therapy LLC, in Central New Jersey. This post is adapted from a post that originally appeared on her blog, Smart Speech Therapy LLC. She specializes in working with multicultural, internationally and domestically adopted children and at-risk children with complex communication disorders. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education, 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, and 16, School-Based Issues.