Dear Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician: Please Don’t Do That!

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Recently I got yet another one of the dreaded phone calls which went a little something like this:

Parent: Hi, I am looking for a speech therapist for my son, who uses PROMPT to treat Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Are you PROMPT certified?

Me: I am PROMPT trained and I do treat motor speech disorders but perhaps you can first tell me a little bit about your child? What is his age? What type of speech difficulties does he have? Who diagnosed him and recommended the treatment.

Parent: He is turning 3. He was diagnosed by a neurodevelopmental pediatrician a few weeks ago. She recommended speech therapy 4 times a week for 30 minutes sessions, using PROMPT.

Me: And what did the speech therapy evaluation reveal?

Parent: We did not do a speech therapy evaluation yet.

Sadly I get these type of phone calls at least once a month. Frantic parents of toddlers aged 18 months to 3+ years of age call to inquire regarding the availability of PROMPT therapy based exclusively on the diagnosis of the neurodevelopmental pediatrician. In all cases I am told that the neurodevelopmental pediatrician specified speech language diagnosis, method of treatment, and therapy frequency, ALBEIT in a complete absence of a comprehensive speech language evaluation and/or past speech language therapy treatments.

The conversation that follows is often an uncomfortable one. I listen to the parental description of the child’s presenting symptoms and explain to the parents that a comprehensive speech language assessment by a certified speech language pathologist is needed prior to initiation of any therapy services. I also explain to the parents that depending on the child’s age and the assessment findings CAS may or may not be substantiated since there are a number of speech sound disorders which may have symptoms similar to CAS.

Following my ‘spiel’, the parents typically react in a number of ways. Some get offended that I dared to question the judgement of a highly qualified medical professional. Others hurriedly thank me for my time and resoundingly hang up the phone. Yet a number of parents will stay on the line, actually listen to what  I have to say and ask me detailed questions.  Some of them will even become clients and have their children undergo a speech language evaluation.  Still a number of them will find out that  their child never even had CAS! Past misdiagnoses ranged from ASD  (CAS was mistaken due to the presence of imprecise speech and excessive jargon related utterances) to severe phonological disorder to dysarthria secondary to CP.  Thus, prior to performing a detailed speech language evaluation  on the child I had no way of knowing whether the child truly presented with CAS symptoms.

Before I continue I’d like to provide a rudimentary definition of CAS.  Since its identification years ago it has been argued whether CAS is linguistic or motoric in nature with the latest consensus being that CAS is a disorder which disrupts speech motor control and creates difficulty with volitional, intelligible speech production.  Latest research also shows that in addition to having difficulty forming words and sentences at the speech level, children with CAS also experience difficulty in the areas of receptive and expressive language, in other words,  “pure” apraxia of speech is rare (Hammer, 2007).

This condition NEEDS to be  diagnosed by a speech language pathologist! Not only that, due to the disorder’s complexity it is strongly recommended that if parents suspect CAS they should take their child for an assessment with an SLP specializing in assessment and treatment of motor speech disorders. Here’s why.

  • CAS has a number of overlapping symptoms with other speech sound disorders (e.g., severe phonological disorder, dysarthria, etc).
  • Symptoms which may initially appear as CAS may change during the course of intervention by the time the child is older (e.g., 3 years of age) which is why diagnosing toddlers under 3 years of age is very problematic and the use of  “suspected” or “working” diagnosis is recommended (Davis & Velleman, 2000) in order to avoid misdiagnosis
  • Diagnosis of CAS is also problematic due to the fact that there are no valid or reliable standardized assessments sensitive to CAS  (McCauley & Strand, 2008). However, a new instrument Dynamic Evaluation of Motor Speech Skill (DEMSS) (Strand et al, 2013) is showing promise with respect to differential diagnosis of severe speech impairments in children
  • Thus for children with less severe impairments SLPs need to design tasks to assess the child’s:
    • Automatic vs. volitional control
    • Simple vs. complex speech
    • Consistency of productions on repetitions of same word
    • Vowel productions
    • Imitation abilities
    • Prosody
    • Phonetic inventory BEFORE and AFTER intervention
    •  Types and levels of cueing the child is presently stimulable to
      • in order to determine where the breakdown is taking place (Caspari, 2012)

These are just some of the reasons why specialization in CAS is needed and why it is IMPOSSIBLE to make a reliable CAS diagnosis by  simply observing the child for a length of time, from a brief physical exam, and from extensive parental interviews (e.g., a typical neurodevelopmental appointment).

In fact, leading CAS experts state that you DON’t need a neurologist in order to confirm the CAS diagnosis (Hammer, 2007).

Furthermore, “NO SINGLE PROGRAM WORKS FOR ALL CHILDREN WITH APRAXIA!!” (Hammer, 2007). Hence SLPs NEED to individualize not only their approach with each child but also switch approaches with the same child when needed it in order to continue making therapy gains. Given the above the PROMPT approach may not even be applicable to some children.

It goes without saying that MANY developmental pediatricians will NOT do this!

But for those who do, I implore you – if you observe that a young child is having difficulty producing speech, please refer the child for a speech language assessment first. Please specify to the parents your concerns (e.g., restricted sound repertoire for the child’s age, difficulty sequencing sounds to make words, etc) BUT NOT the diagnosis, therapy frequency, as well as therapy approaches.  Allow the assessing speech language pathologist to make these recommendations in order to ensure that the child receives the best possible targeted intervention for his/her disorder.

For more information please visit the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA) website or visit the ASHA website to find a professional specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of CAS near you.

References:

  1. Caspari, S (2012)  Beyond Picture Cards! Practical Assessment and Treatment Methods for Children with Apraxia of Speech. Session presented for New Jersey Speech Language Hearing Association Convention, Long Branch, NJ
  2. Davis, B., & Velleman, S. L. (2000). Differential diagnosis and treatment of developmental apraxia of speech in infants and toddlers. Infant-Toddler Intervention: The Transdisciplinary Journal, 10, 177–192.
  3. Hammer, D (2007) Childhood Apraxia of Speech: Evaluation and Therapy Challenges. Retrieved from http://www.maxshouse.com.au/documents/CAS%20conference%20day%201%20.ppt.
  4. McCauley RJ, Strand EA. (2008). A Review of Standardized Tests of Nonverbal Oral and Speech Motor Performance in Children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17,81-91.
  5.  Strand, E, McCauley, R, Weigand, S, Stoeckel, R & Baas, B (2013) A Motor Speech Assessment for Children with Severe Speech Disorders: Reliability and Validity Evidence. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, vol 56; 505-520.

4 Responses to “Dear Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician: Please Don’t Do That!”

  1. Cyndee Williams Bowen July 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Outstanding and very important blog post! Thank you for addressing it so eloquently.

  2. Christopher Plant July 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Fantastic post. I’ll be passing this on to my students.

  3. Sharon Gretz July 30, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH! We at CASANA truly appreciate this piece of writing and the plea for medical doctors to stop “diagnosing” Childhood Apraxia of Speech. You point out such important points including the fact that true comprehensive speech, language and communication assessment does not occur in the instances of doctor diagnosed CAS. We see so much misdiagnosis too! So, thanks again! That said, we do know that many speech-language pathologists do not have experience in diagnosis and treatment of CAS and that is also problematic for families seeking help. We like your reference to locating SLPs experienced in diagnosing motor speech disorders and we continue to do our best to provide high quality training to grow the expertise so that families can feel confident in the SLPs diagnosis.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Early Intervention Evaluations PART II: Assessing Suspected Motor Speech Disorders in Children Under 3 | Smart Speech Therapy LLC - June 25, 2017

    […] neurodevelopmental pediatricians (rather than SLPs), diagnosing Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), without the adequate level of training and knowledge regarding motor speech disorders. Today, I wanted to combine both topics and delve deeper into another area of EI SLP evaluations, […]

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