Childhood Dysarthria: Understanding the Symptoms and Teacher Tips to Help With Communication
written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch
• edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom
• updated: 8/2/2012
As a special education teacher, you will have students with many kinds of speech disorders. Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder you may encounter while teaching. Learn about the symptoms of childhood dysarthria and how you can help a student with this condition.
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A motor speech disorder, dysarthria results from damage to muscles that control speech. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that a patient with this disorder has weaker facial, mouth and respiratory system muscles, or she may not be able to move these muscles at all. If the patient has acquired childhood dysarthria, then she has a condition that has injured those muscles, such as a brain injury or a brain tumor. Other patients may have congenital childhood dysarthria, meaning the dysarthria existed at birth. For example, the International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation notes that childhood dysarthria is associated with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition.
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The severity of the symptoms of childhood dysarthria depends on the location of the nervous system damage, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. If you have a student with childhood dysarthria, you may notice that when she talks, she has slurred speech, speaks softly and has an abnormal speaking rhythm. A patient can have a slow speech rate or a fast speech rate in which she mumbles. The University of Rochester Medical Center notes that the speech can be difficult to understand.
Due to the damage to the mouth and facial muscles, a student with childhood dysarthria will have limited movement of her lip, tongue and jaw. She may also have problems with chewing and swallowing or she may drool and have poor control of her saliva. Other symptoms of childhood dysarthria include hoarseness and breathiness when speaking and changes in her voice quality, such as having a nasal-sounding speech or sounding stuffed up when speaking.
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How the Teacher Can Help
How can you, as a teacher, help a student who has childhood dysarthria? Since the student may have problems expressing herself verbally, encourage her to use other methods of communication, such as expressing herself through drawings. Have the student write down what she wants to say on paper if she is having problems speaking. The student may need to use assistive technology, such as computer-based equipment, to communicate. If the student is undergoing speech therapy, find out from her speech therapist the alternative methods of communication that she is learning or uses. When the student is speaking, do not worry about correcting her. The MayoClinic.com recommends not finishing the student's sentence and allowing her time to talk.
If communication is a hurdle in the classroom, try making a communication book with the student. The MayoClinic.com suggests creating “a book of words, pictures and photos to assist with conversations." This can help facilitate the student's communication with you, as well as with the other students in the class. In addition to making the communication book, try minimizing distracting noises in the classroom, as this can also help with the student's communication.