Spotlight on Verbal Dyspraxia, by Derry Patterson, SaLT
Approximate reading time: Under 5 mins.
Have you ever tried to do up coat buttons with your gloves on? Now imagine trying to do up your shoe laces wearing oven gloves. Would you be the first in the class to get ready for PE?
For children with Dyspraxia this is their world. Everyday tasks can become major challenges.
Dyspraxia or Development Coordination Disorder (DCD) affects between 2% and 10% of children. It is a motor co-ordination difficulty which can have wide ranging effects. Children with DCD will struggle with tasks requiring the co-ordination or sequencing of movements. They will lack organisational skills and may be easily distracted. Anxiety can play a large role with some pupils becoming reluctant to speak or participate in certain situations.
Dyspraxia can affect gross and fine motor skills or be more specific, affecting just groups of muscles, e.g. oromotor dyspraxia effects lips, jaw, tongue and soft palate or oculomotor dyspraxia which just effects eye movements.
You may be familiar with pupils who struggle with dressing, movement and handwriting but did you know that Dyspraxia can also affect speech and language?
Dyspraxia and Speech
Verbal dyspraxia affects the production and sequencing of speech sounds. The child’s speech may be difficult to understand, even for family members. The pattern of errors can also be very inconsistent making it hard to ‘tune in’ to the child’s speech. These speech difficulties can persist for many years and the child will not simply grow out of them. If you think a child in your class has verbal dyspraxia you should contact your local Speech and Language Therapist.
Therapy focuses on repetitive exercises which should be built up gradually and carried out frequently - a challenge within a busy curriculum. However, small step repetitive exercises can make a huge difference with many pupils achieving clear speech as they move through the school.
Verbal dyspraxia - signs to look for:
• Limited range of sounds
• Distorted vowels
• Difficulty with longer words
• Unusual stress and intonation
• May have problems eating and/or drinking
• Literacy difficulties
• Language difficulties
Dyspraxia and Literacy
Many pupils with verbal dyspraxia will struggle with reading and spelling and indeed difficulties with literacy can persist even when the child’s speech has improved and become easy to understand. Verbal dyspraxia affects the child’s phonological processing, in particular any tasks involving segmentation, so they are likely to need a lot of support with phonics. They may find it very hard to blend and segment sounds and syllables.
You may notice that they are slow to move on from whole word reading to breaking words down into sounds. It may take them a long time to learn grapheme-phoneme correspondences and they may also struggle with both rhyme detection and production tasks.
To support literacy development for these pupils try these ideas. You should find they benefit all pupils, not just the children with dyspraxia.
- Introduce sound cards – pictures to represent sounds e.g. The Speech Link sound cards.
- Teach letter sound relationships using hand signs (e.g. Cued Articulation*) for sounds and finger spelling for letters. Make sure you use the hand sign up at your mouth to show it represents speech and the finger spelling sign down by the page to represent letters.
- Develop an awareness of sounds in words, e.g. ask the child to find something in the classroom beginning with a given sound, or to decide which two words have the same sound at the beginning from a choice of three pictures.
- Work on segmentation skills using sound cards and coloured cubes to provide visual support.
- Use whole word teaching strategies.
It is likely that pupils with verbal dyspraxia will take a long time to grasp phonics and will require time for repetition and revision of skills.
Dyspraxia and Language
Dyspraxia can also affect a child’s understanding and use of spoken language.
*Cued articulation is a signing system that was developed by Speech and Language Therapist, Jane Passey, to help anyone who has difficulty processing, pronouncing or sequencing English speech sounds. Each sound has its own hand cue which the adult uses to show the child how and where the sound is produced. It is a very simple system to use and can work extremely well for many pupils with a variety of speech difficulties including Dyspraxia.