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Advocating for Your Child with Apraxia of Speech: Navigating the Education System

As a parent of a child with apraxia of speech, you are concerned about how this language disorder will affect your child’s schooling.

Verbal communication is found in every aspect of the classroom from answering the teacher’s questions to presenting projects. There are even exams that require students to verbally recite key concepts.

To make sure your child gets the best education, you’ll need to advocate for your child with apraxia of speech from the very beginning of their educational journey.

These tips will help you to navigate the education system as your child’s chief advocate.

What is Apraxia of Speech?

Apraxia of Speech (AOS) is a neurological disorder that interrupts the brain’s language-producing pathways. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), it occurs in about 1 - 2 children per 1,000.

There is a higher incidence in males versus females. Students who suffer from this impairment generally have a higher risk of other language, reading, and spelling disorders.

Children with this language disorder will have the following symptoms:

  • Makes inconsistent errors in speech

  • Trouble with articulation

  • Searching for the right sounds (a.k.a. babbling)

  • Use incorrect tone, rhythm, or stresses

These children generally understand language well, but they are unable to communicate effectively.

There are two types: Acquired Apraxia of speech (which is usually the result of brain injury to certain parts of the brain) and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (which is also known as developmental apraxia of speech). Many with developmental apraxia have no brain damage or evidence of brain abnormalities.

This language impairment can be difficult to diagnose. It often has similar symptoms to other language disorders, so it needs to be diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). This is a motor-speech disorder, so it not only affects a child’s speech but also their fine motor skills.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) explains that eye movement, coordinating multiple movements, responding to commands, making mouth movements (dysarthria), and making precise leg and arm movements may be difficult for apraxia kids.

This disorder is treatable and your child can make a lot of progress in their speech development, but they will never outgrow it.

How Does Apraxia of Speech Affect Schooling?

As you can imagine, being able to think of the answer to a question or the right word, but not being able to say it can be very frustrating for your child.

They not only can’t think of words, though, but they also have difficulty with vowel sounds, leave out consonant sounds at the beginning or end of words, struggle with longer and more complex words, and can even substitute incorrect words (aphasia). Children with apraxia of speech often have trouble in spelling, reading, writing, and even math.

These children may have difficulties understanding instructions and being able to communicate a lack of understanding.

They can also develop anxiety. This stems from their inability to speak clearly in social settings. Some children may avoid situations in which speaking is key. They may also suffer from bullying by other students.

Tips for Navigating the Education System

There are several ways you can advocate for your child in the education system. There are many ways to ensure your child is successful in school. Even before school begins, you can prepare for ways to make sure your child’s needs are met.

#1 Get an IEP or 504 Plan

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law guaranteeing free, public education for children with disabilities.

As a part of this law, there are two types of plans available for children with disabilities. These plans are agreed on by the family members, teachers, and the child as a way to accommodate the disability.

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a plan created to support the student with accommodations and special education instruction to help them thrive in school. First, students are evaluated for their strengths and weaknesses. Then, the IEP is developed based on that information providing goals and the means to reach those goals. An IEP also protects children with disabilities from discrimination in the classroom.

A 504 Plan is slightly different from an IEP. It is still a plan that provides teachers, parents, and children with goals and accommodations, but it is more about removing barriers in the classroom that keeps the student from learning with his or her peers.

IEPs are more specific, regulated more closely, and provide special education services. In contrast, 504 plans are more generic, less regulated, and work to make the classroom more accessible for children with disabilities. Both services are free, so the choice depends on your child’s individual needs.

Having these plans in place lets teachers know what your child needs to be successful. It also gives them scaffolding to help them achieve more.

#2 Ask for Preferential Seating

Even if you decide against an IEP or 504, you can ask for preferential seating in the classroom. But, note that IEPs and 504s ensure, legally, that your child gets this preferential seating.

Preferential seating refers to placing the child in the best spot within the classroom for their success. Sometimes that means placing them close to the teacher. This can be beneficial for apraxia kids because the teacher can quietly lean in and give the student extra help without drawing attention or repeating instructions. This can also make it easier for a child to hear the instructions or see visual cues.

#3 See if Your Child Needs Augmentative and Alternative Communication

For children with apraxia of speech, communicating with others is hard. Severe cases may require assistive devices. But, all children with apraxia of speech can benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

AAC just refers to all communicating without using words. This is helpful for people who have language development issues. AACs can be used temporarily or throughout a child’s lifetime, based on the individual’s needs.

Speech tablets are one example of these devices. Ipads or other tablets loaded with special speech apps. These help the child to communicate with others. They are easy to use and are often more cost-effective than other assistive technologies.

Another option is to get a speech-generating device. These are computers that are catered specifically to a child’s speech sound disorders. These devices can even be used to help children learn speech sounds. These devices are more expensive and need to be developed specifically for the child.

You can also go much more essential for your child if they are old enough to read and write. They can use pen and paper, spell a word by pointing to letters, or using a whiteboard to communicate with others. Drawing pictures, using facial expressions and gestures, and pointing to photographs can be good methods for pre-literate children.

Children with apraxia of speech can also benefit from American Sign Language (ASL). Sign language can give children who have difficulties with speech production a way to communicate with those around them. This method is not recommended for children who may also have muscle weakness or issues with motor movements.

#4 Have a Plan for Missed Class Time

Since your child may need to miss class to go to special speech therapy sessions or attend doctor’s visits, you’ll need to make a plan for how your child will make up missed work. You can include this in your IEP or 504 plan. You can also speak to the teacher directly.

There are ways to set up a system for getting missed work. There could be a special folder the student keeps with missing work. That way, he or she can quietly access the work when they come back to school. There are also many digital options available nowadays. You will need to work out this system with the teacher.

In addition, due to lost class time, you may need to invest in a tutor. You will want to make sure to hire a tutor who is familiar with your child’s special needs and can work along with your child’s speech problems.

#5 Alternative Assignments for Speaking Projects

In the case of individual assignments, IEPs, and 504s help your child get the right alternatives while still performing a speaking assignment that is appropriate for their skill level.

However, even if you do not have one of these plans, you can communicate with the teacher to ask them for an alternative for your child that allows them to communicate in a way that is more accessible to them.

Alternative assignments don’t have to be obvious or disruptive. It could be as simple as asking if your child can present their verbal report individually to the teacher rather than in front of the class.

#6 Enroll Your Child in Speech Therapy

Sometimes it’s hard to know if your child needs speech therapy. Parents and children often find a way of communicating with each other even if there are speech distortions. You and your child probably have an expressive language all your own.

That’s why it’s important to get your child evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) if you even slightly suspect there may be speech deficits.

Your child may need speech therapy if they have issues with language skills such as,

  • processing or understanding sounds

  • Blending sounds in the correct sequence

  • Expressing themselves in the correct grammatical structure and order

  • Using language in a meaningful way

A speech therapist can help your child to develop clearer speech. They will work on getting your child to move their muscles correctly to produce sounds. They will also emphasize practice and slowing down speech to help make communication more clear. In severe cases, they may also help guide children to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

Where Can You Find a Speech Therapist?

For free-of-charge speech, language, and literacy across the state of California, check out California Scottish Rite Foundation. We partner with universities, private practices, and donors who support Ritecare Childhood Language Centers of California. Our organization has served over 2,300 students each year who struggle with language, speech, and learning disorders.

The Ritecare Childhood Language Centers of California provide evaluation and treatment to children. There are 4 locations in Southern California and 2 in Northern California.

We are also partnered with the following universities:

  • California State University Long Beach

  • California State University Los Angeles

  • Chapman University in Orange County

  • University of the Pacific in Stockton

This partnership helps to expand our services offering a wider breadth. It also allows aspiring graduate students to get hands-on experience in this field.

Our foundation also partners with several private practices to fully round out the services we can provide to children with language, speech, and learning disorders. These individual practices also provide aspiring speech therapists to participate in internships that grow the future of speech pathology experts.

We currently partner with Sunrise A Speech Pathology Corp in Fresno, Speech-Language Learning Associates, Inc. in Sacramento, and Speech Goals in Burlingame, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Here at Scottish Rite, our goal is to “help children communicate.” We are dedicated to making access to these services available to children no matter the race, creed, or family’s ability to pay.

If you are looking to get your child evaluated for speech therapy, you can communicate with any of our locations for more information.

Final Thoughts

A child with apraxia of speech can benefit from a parent who knows how to advocate for them in the education system. There are several steps you can take to ensure your child has the best quality of education.

Get your child an IEP or 504 plan to protect them legally and to set up a plan for them to be successful in the classroom. Talk to your child’s teacher about ways you can adapt their classroom interactions with preferential seating, alternative assignments, and a missing work plan. Your child may also need Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to help them communicate with those around them. They also may need speech therapy. With these tools in your toolbelt, your child is sure to succeed in school.



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