Help! What does a motor speech disorder mean?

If your child has a motor speech disorder you may notice that he/she can produce specific sounds correctly one time, and differently the next, for example they can say the word “Mom” easily but if they are asked to say “bye Mom” your child suddenly has difficulty. You may also find that they produce more errors in their speech when the sentence is longer or in conversations with others.

The ability to produce speech requires many parts of the brain to work together, beginning with the intent to communicate, and ending with speech production. In between are a series of complicated steps that are susceptible to problems. These steps are what are called a “motor plan”- starting with a thought and ending with a motor movement (lips closing, tongue moving etc.). 

When you see your child trying to produce the sound, moving their mouth as if they are trying to find where to put it, it is because they are trying to coordinate the message from their brain, carry out the sequential movements and hold the correct positions long enough to produce the sound(s). Speech-Language Pathologists work with children to help them build these motor plans by attempting to teach the brain how to sequence the movements the correct way, often practicing sounds using “drill-like” activities.

Research has shown that repetition and having a visual model to follow i.e., watching moms’ face or the S-LP’s mouth movements in therapy, is most effective in building these motor plans. In addition, some children need a prompt to trigger their brains to tell their muscles where to move their lips or tongue, which is why you may see the S-LP using specific placements of their fingers to cue your child. This is only one method of treatment; however there are many ways to help your child with motor speech difficulties.

Work with your S-LP to set goals and create plans together to help make it easier for your child to communicate with others! The brain is a complicated structure- always feel free to ask your S-LP questions and for additional resources.

Written by: Ashleigh Wishen, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.


3 responses to “Help! What does a motor speech disorder mean?

  1. So far my son is doing pretty well the first 5 sessions with speech therapy and the therapist has high hopes he will catch up because he is cognitively advanced. When would you notice something like motor speech disorder? Right away or further in treatment?

  2. i just saw your comment this is really important to me

  3. It’s great to find a blog dedicated to speech services in Canada. What brought me to this page is that I’m searching for information on Apraxia in Canada. Could you shed some light on why in Canada we rely on the term “Motor speech disorder” and other countries use the term Apraxia? From what I have read, there is no difference between the two. Also, from what i have read, Canada does not really seem to be current on the Apraxia information available. My son is six and finally received the diagnosis by a Neurological Pediatrician but at the age of six, many of the important early intervention years have passed. We did receive treatment, but was it the right treatment? Now my son is struggling with literacy and other issues in school and the school SLP and the EI coordinator have zero experience with Apraxic children and how they learn, despite there being research done on this. How can I educate the school? Most importantly, where is the current Canadian research so I can point them to it?

    I will try to stop by the blog to see if you responded, but please feel free to email me so that I can find what is best for my son.


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