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What is Aphasia Disorder in Children

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Aphasia in children is a condition in which their communication skills do not develop at a typical rate for their age. Many people mistake this condition for autism or Asperger's syndrome. A comprehensive assessment of symptoms by a professional can distinguish aphasia from other disorders.


A child with aphasia typically has difficulty expressing themselves verbally, understanding language, or both. They may struggle to form complete sentences, use correct grammar, and find the right words to convey their thoughts and ideas. Additionally, they may have difficulty following directions, answering questions, and conversing with others.


Children with aphasia may sometimes exhibit frustration or emotional distress when trying to communicate, leading to behavioral problems or social isolation. It is important to note that the severity and symptoms can vary widely, depending on the individual case.



Aphasia Explained


Aphasia speech disorders in children are a type of communication disorder that impairs a child's ability to understand, produce, and use language. Children with aphasia often have difficulty expressing themselves and understanding the language of others. It is important to note that aphasia is not a sign of intelligence but rather a language-processing disorder.


Although aphasia is not a common condition, approximately 2 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with it, with an additional 180,000 new cases each year. However, aphasia is commonly associated with certain medical conditions, such as stroke, with nearly one-third of stroke patients experiencing some form of aphasia.


Early intervention is critical to helping children with aphasia, as research has shown that early intervention can help reduce the severity of the disorder and help the child learn to communicate more effectively.


It is essential to understand aphasia in children for several reasons:


1. Early Intervention


If you understand what aphasia is and can identify it in children, you will quickly know how to help the child. Early diagnosis and treatment of aphasia can significantly improve a child's ability to communicate effectively. Children with aphasia may struggle with language development without intervention, impacting their academic, social, and emotional growth. You can prevent many things if you identify the issue early and provide much-needed support.


2. Differentiation From Other Disorders


Aphasia in children is often confused with other conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and ADHD. Understanding the unique symptoms of aphasia can help you get the appropriate support at the right time.


3. Support for Parents and Caregivers


Children with aphasia may require extra support from their parents and caregivers to cope with their condition. Understanding the disorder can help parents and caregivers develop effective communication strategies, advocate for their child's needs, and build a support network.


Types of Aphasia Disorder in Children


Generally, children with aphasia may find it challenging to express themselves verbally and to understand others. However, the symptoms are not the same for every child. Here are some of the known types of aphasia:


1. Expressive Aphasia


Expressive aphasia can occur in children due to brain injury or developmental disorders affecting the brain's language areas. Children with expressive aphasia have difficulty expressing themselves through spoken language.


Children with expressive aphasia may struggle to find the right words to express their thoughts or construct correct sentences. They may also have trouble with word order, verb tenses, and function words such as "the" or "and." As a result, their speech may sound halting or disjointed, and they may use a simpler and more childish vocabulary than their peers.


Children may not have a fully developed language system yet, so it can be more challenging to distinguish between typical language development and expressive aphasia. However, parents and caregivers may notice that the child has difficulty communicating their needs or expressing their thoughts, has a limited vocabulary, and struggles to construct sentences with more than a few words.


Early intervention is crucial for children with expressive aphasia to help them develop their language skills and improve their ability to communicate effectively. Treatment typically involves speech therapy to help the child improve their language production skills, develop their vocabulary, and learn alternative communication methods, such as gestures or writing.


Parents and caregivers can work with speech-language pathologists to learn strategies for supporting the child's language development at home and in social situations.


2. Receptive Aphasia


Receptive aphasia is a type of language disorder that affects a child's ability to understand language. It is caused by damage or injury to the brain's language areas, specifically the temporal lobe, responsible for language comprehension.


Children with receptive aphasia may have difficulty understanding spoken language, written language, or both. They may have trouble understanding the meaning of words or sentences, following directions, or answering questions. They may also have difficulty with abstract languages, such as figurative expressions or jokes.


The severity of receptive aphasia can vary widely, depending on the extent and location of the brain damage. Some children may have mild receptive aphasia and only struggle with certain types of language, while others may have severe receptive aphasia and struggle to understand most languages.


Receptive aphasia can significantly impact a child's ability to communicate effectively, impacting their social and emotional well-being. Treatment for receptive aphasia typically involves speech therapy to help the child improve their language comprehension skills and find alternative ways to communicate, such as through visual aids or gestures.


This condition is not irreparable. Parents and caregivers can work with speech-language pathologists to learn strategies for supporting the child's language development at home and in social situations. Early intervention is vital for improving the child's outcomes and helping them to achieve their full potential.


3. Global Aphasia


Global aphasia is a language disorder affecting a child's ability to understand and express language. The child may struggle to write, read, speak, or understand others.


Children with global aphasia have severe deficits in receptive and expressive language skills. They may have difficulty understanding spoken or written language, using language to communicate their thoughts and needs, and engaging in conversation with others. They may also struggle with word retrieval and have limited vocabulary.


The severity of global aphasia can vary widely, depending on the extent and location of the brain damage. Some children may have mild global aphasia and only struggle with certain aspects of language, while others may have severe global aphasia and be nonverbal or use only a few words. Some children with global aphasia may only be able to produce and understand a handful of words.


Children with global aphasia may not experience any other impairments besides language difficulties. They may use nonverbal communication methods such as facial expressions, gestures, and variations in tone to convey their message.


4. Mixed Aphasia


Mixed aphasia is a type of language disorder that affects children's expressive and receptive language skills. It occurs due to damage or injury to multiple areas of the brain's language network, including Broca's and Wernicke's areas, as well as other areas of the brain involved in language processing.


Children with mixed aphasia typically have difficulty with both understanding and using language. They may struggle to comprehend spoken or written language, have difficulty expressing their thoughts and needs verbally, and make grammar or syntax errors. They may also have difficulty with word retrieval and naming objects or people.


Mixed aphasia is characterized by reduced and laborious speech. Children with mixed non-fluent aphasia also experience difficulty understanding speech. Children with mixed aphasia often have limited reading and writing abilities that do not extend beyond an elementary level.


Causes of Aphasia Disorder in Children


Aphasia is an issue linked to the brain. It can occur due to any condition that damages the brain or disrupts its normal functions. Here are some of the most common causes of aphasia in children:


1. Brain Injury


A child can develop aphasia if there is an injury to an area of the brain. That means the areas of the brain responsible for language processing and production are damaged.


Injuries to the left hemisphere of the brain are especially likely to cause aphasia since this is where the language centers are typically located. Depending on the location and severity of the brain injury, children with aphasia may experience a range of language difficulties, such as difficulty speaking, understanding language, reading, and writing. Brain injuries can result from various causes, including traumatic brain injury, infections, brain tumors, and strokes.


2. Developmental Disorders


Developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and specific language impairment (SLI), can cause aphasia in children.


In both cases, the underlying cause of the aphasia is related to developmental differences in the brain's language centers. These differences can affect the child's ability to process and produce language, leading to difficulties with communication.


3. Genetics


Aphasia can be caused by genetic factors, which means that some genetic conditions or mutations can make it more likely for a child to have language difficulties that can lead to aphasia. For example, genetic conditions like Down syndrome or mutations in certain genes like FOXP2 can affect the development of the brain's language centers, leading to aphasia.


In addition, some genetic conditions can increase the risk of stroke or other brain injuries, which can also cause aphasia. For example, children with sickle cell anemia have a higher risk of having a stroke, which can damage the brain and lead to aphasia.


4. Other Medical Conditions


Many other medical conditions can cause aphasia in children. Some examples include:


  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): TBI is a common cause of aphasia in children. It can occur due to a fall, car accident, or sports injury.


  • Brain tumors: Tumors in the brain can cause aphasia by pressing on or damaging parts of the brain that control language.


  • Infections: Certain infections like meningitis or encephalitis can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to language difficulties and aphasia.


  • Neurodegenerative diseases: Diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's can cause progressive damage to the brain, including the language centers, leading to aphasia.


  • Epilepsy: Seizures can sometimes affect the areas of the brain that process language and cause temporary or permanent aphasia.


  • Lead poisoning: Exposure to lead can cause damage to the brain, leading to language difficulties and aphasia.


It's important to note that not all children with these medical conditions will develop aphasia, and some children may develop aphasia due to causes that are not yet fully understood. If a child shows signs of language difficulties or aphasia, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment options.



How is Aphasia Treated in Children?


Although there is no direct cure for aphasia, it can often be managed effectively through treatment. The initial step in managing aphasia is typically to address the underlying condition that caused it. For instance, in cases of stroke, prompt restoration of blood flow to the affected part of the brain can sometimes reduce or prevent permanent damage.


For some children with aphasia, their condition can improve on its own without any treatment. However, treatment can be provided for those who experience more persistent symptoms through a rehabilitation approach that focuses on developing language skills by utilizing the brain's natural ability to adapt and change (neuroplasticity).


Cognitive rehabilitation is a type of treatment that involves training to improve language skills, such as recognizing and producing sounds, as well as exercises to improve gestures, oral-facial movements, and sound production.


As the rehabilitation progresses, more educational activities can be incorporated, such as exercises that use drawings and text to improve language comprehension and syntax skills.


Building a Support Network


A support network can be crucial in helping a child with aphasia. A child with aphasia may feel frustrated, angry, and anxious about their difficulty communicating. A support network that includes family members, friends, and healthcare professionals can provide emotional support and encouragement to the child.


Our programs at the CASR Foundation can engage the child in activities that promote language stimulation. We will also give you and your child access to support groups, online forums, and educational materials about aphasia. These resources can help the child, and their family learn more about the condition and connect with others going through similar experiences.


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