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Autism and Speech Difficulties. Is there a link?

The Majority of Children with Autism also have Apraxia
Apraxia is a motor disorder caused by underlying damage to the brain.  While there are many types of apraxia, speech-language pathologists are most concerned with “apraxia of speech,” a motor disorder related to producing speech sounds.  In order to form intelligible speech, a child must produce precise, highly refined, and specific series of movements in the tongue, lips, jaw, and palate.  Children with apraxia of speech experience difficulty producing and planning these precise movements.  In essence, the brain has difficulty translating what the child wants to say into the muscle movements required to produce these sounds.

In a three-year study performed by Cheryl Tierney, she finds that apraxia of speech and autism are greatly linked.  While both disorders are manifested in speech difficulties and the causes of both are largely unknown, the link is much greater than we previously believed.  In Tierney’s study, 64% of children with an autism diagnosis also had apraxia, and 37% of children with an apraxia diagnosis also had autism.  Tierney and her team suggest the importance of screening for both conditions if a child shows delayed speech development.

While Tierney and her research team initially feared that this link between autism and apraxia meant that there might be cases of misdiagnosing a child with autism when they had apraxia of speech, they discovered that the diagnosing tool for autism (Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder, CASD) can both diagnose autism in one child and rule it out in another child.  This means that the likelihood of a child being misdiagnosed with autism is very unlikely, and that a child’s developmental difficulties can be accurately distinguished in these cases for them to receive proper treatment.

Written by Laura Keeble: Researcher at Simone Friedman SLS

Apraxia a Common Occurrence in Autism, Study Finds. (2015). The ASHA Leader, 20(9), 18. Retrieved February 5, 2016.

Autism and apraxia: The importance of screening for both. (2015, June 30). Retrieved February 5, 2016, from

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