What is dysarthria?
Dysarthria is a motor-speech disorder that makes it hard to use or control the muscles of the mouth, tongue, palate, and vocal cords, which are used to make speech. A brain tumor, stroke, or other brain injury can affect these muscles, which are used in breathing, eating, and talking. Dysarthria can cause these muscles to become weak, move slowly, or not move at all. Dysarthria may also be caused by some medicines. Depending on the area of the nervous system affected, the type and level of problems caused by dysarthria can vary. Some people with dysarthria will have trouble speaking. More severe problems include trouble chewing and swallowing.
What does dysarthria sound like?
Depending on the cause and how severe it is, a person with dysarthria may have one or more of the symptoms below.
- Slurred speech, where sounds are not spoken clearly.
- Voice pitch may be too high, too low, monotone, or have pitch breaks.
- Voice may be too soft or too loud; patients may have trouble controlling volume.
- Voice may sound hoarse, breathy, or strained.
- Voice may tire easily or have tremors.
- Voice may sound nasal (whiney) or de-nasal (congested).
- Slow speech.
- Fast speech that sounds like mumbling.
How is dysarthria treated?
Treatment depends on the symptoms and the type of dysarthria your child has. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will work with your child to improve speech skills. Goals may include:
- Adjusting rate of speech;
- Improving breath support during speech so your child can speak louder;
- Using oral-motor exercises to make the lips, jaw, and tongue stronger;
- Increasing movement of the lips, jaw, and tongue;
- Improving how your child makes speech sounds so speech is more clear; and
- Teaching family members ways to better communicate with your child.
If your child has severe dysarthria, you may not be able to understand your child’s speech. In such cases your child may need other ways to communicate. These may include using simple gestures, picture boards, or alphabet boards.
How can I help my child communication better?
Tips for the child
- Start your topic with a single word or short phrase. Then, move on to full sentences.
- Speak slowly and loudly; pause often.
- Check with those listening to make sure that they can understand you.
- Try to talk less when you feel tired. At these times, your speech will be harder to understand.
- If you become frustrated, try to use other methods to relay your message. Point, gesture, or write down key words. Or just take a rest and try again later.
Tips for the listener
- Reduce noise and other things that could distract you or the speaker.
- Allow the speaker time to talk and look at them when they speak. Do not interrupt them by finishing their sentences or correcting errors.
- Let the speaker know if you have trouble understanding the message. Repeat the part of the message that you understood, so the speaker does not have to repeat the entire message.
- Talk normally. Many people with dysarthria can understand others without any trouble, so there is no need to slow down or speak loudly when you talk.
- Ask questions. If you cannot understand the message after repeated attempts, ask yes and no questions or have the speaker write his message to you.
Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (www.ASHA.org) and the text developed in 2001 by Kathryn Yorkston, PhD, CCC-SLP.
To learn more about dysarthria, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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