Research breakthrough helps to unlock severe childhood speech impediments
An international study, led by Australian-based Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), has made a breakthrough in identifying a potential cause of one of the most severe child speech impediments, apraxia.
Apraxia affects one in 1,000 children, and is a motor speech disorder that involves difficulty in making speech sounds voluntarily, and stringing the sounds together in the correct order to make words. Researchers have said that, until now, the origins of speech apraxia have been unclear.
MCRI researchers identified anomalies in a key speech pathway of the brain connected to speech, with lead researcher, Professor Angela Morgan, saying the new understanding could help neuroscientists and speech pathologists to develop more targeted treatments for children living with apraxia.
“Children with apraxia fail to learn to speak clearly and combine sounds properly, with the timing and sequencing of words also affected,” Professor Morgan said.
“People struggle to understand what they say, which has major negative long-term effects on their ability to form social relationships, self-esteem, academic achievements and quality of life.”
The speech pathway was uncovered by the research team when they were able to identify irregularities in a core brain pathway in apraxia sufferers using a sophisticated form of MRI scanning.
“Normal MRI scans found no anomalies, but we used a very sophisticated scan, that enables brain tractography analysis, which measures the integrity of brain pathways,” Professor Morgan said.
“We looked at the brains of seven families members with apraxia and found there were core differences in a key brain tract for speech – the dorsal language stream.”
Professor Morgan said this newly discovered variance in that brain pathway appeared to be critical to how people listen and then produce speech.
The research paper, titled Dorsal language stream anomalies in an inherited speech disorder, has been published in the latest issue of international journal, Brain.