Got Apraxia? Get Your Motor Runnin’!


 Parents have heard it before: you are your child’s first teacher.  That statement can apply to speech therapy as well.  Parents are with their kids way more than a speech therapist is (at least I hope so!)…so that makes you your child’s pseudo-therapist.  No pressure, of course!  This post will present tips and ideas for making speech fun and nurturing a speech-rich environment at home and on the go.  Simple toys and books can become therapeutic, music and games can promote speech development.  These ideas will combine all aspects of your parenting brain: teaching, nurturing, creating, role-playing and limit-setting. 

Look at this is your own tool box for you to access when you need a host of fun ideas to get your kid talking, playing and learning.  Even adults remember new information best when we are having fun.  Are you from a traditional educational background that grew-up thinking learning was all about desks, blackboards and the teacher at the front of the class?  Well, then it’s time to shift your view and throw out the flashcards!   It’s all about learning to help your kid overcome apraxia in their natural environment: your home and community. 

Here are a few ideas to get you warmed up:

 Family game nightTraditional favorites will do the trick.  The speech pay offs here:  turn-taking, counting, being a good sport. 

Visit your public library.  Let your kid find some books of interest and then read them to her.  Speech pay-off: child-directed learning, introduction to new vocabulary, 1:1 time with you in which you are modeling pronunciation and articulation. 

Experience and connect with natureSpeech pay-off: identify and describe what you see, hear and smell.  Think wholistically—this is more than a walk in the park. 

Exercise by going on a bike ride or sledding.  Speech pay-off: especially with CAS because as you already know, is a motor-neurological disorder.   These little bodies crave motor movements to connect with their words.  Exercise also increases self-confidence, which these kiddos need more than anything to get the right words out. 

Get creative and do some art.  Speech pay-off: Besides the 1:1 time all kids crave, it also unleashes their creative potential and gives you two something to talk about…”what color should we make the banana?”  Practice saying “banana” while you’re at it, too.

Listen to music.  Speech Pay-off: Back to the idea that kids with CAS need physical movement…and what better way to get them to move than with some rockin’ tunes?  Encourage singing, even if they really can’t get the lyrics out.  Plus, music has a positive effect on mood—even yours!  

Bake cookies or cupcakes.  Speech pay-off:  talk about shapes as you roll out sugar cookies, identify ingredients as you toss them into the bowl, have child repeat the words (flour, sugar, butter, etc).  Share them with friends and neighbors.  The caveat: your kid needs to do some of the talking when the two of you deliver the goodies.  Simply saying, “cookie” or “bake,” even an approximation will do.   

Before we hop right into “here’s a list of what you should do at home,” it’s important to have a little understanding about different styles of learning.  We’re all different—you know that.  We look differently, we act differently, and we have different personalities.  We have different ways in which we learn best, too.  The key phrase is learn best.  Sure we can learn in a classroom with desks in neat straight lines and a book.  But how many of us would agree that is the best way we all learn?   How do you learn best?  How does your child learn best?  Don’t be discouraged if the two of you learn best in different ways.  Just do your best to help your kid with the tools you have. 

Sitting down to write this (at a coffee shop, where I tend to do my best writing and learning) it came as no surprise that I had several piles of ideas corresponding to different learning styles.  The biggest pile?  Gross Motor/Sensory/Whole-Body/Kinesthetic Learning.  By now, you know why: CAS is a disorder of the motor-neurological system.

We’ll start with that today.  Here’s a nice long list for you to try out at home.  Remember, I can’t promise any miraculous results, but I can promise an arsenal of ideas.   


 1-Bounce Your Way to Words! 

Equipment: Get a trampoline appropriate for your space and budget.  You can find small basic trampolines in the sporting goods department of your favorite retailer for about $30.  Bigger (outdoor) ones come with a higher price tag and other concerns like space, insurance and neighbor kids.  Look for one made just for kids, a stabilizer bar is helpful.   Keep it in a place in your home where your child will see it and use it.What you do:  Bounce on it, of course!  Use it for at least 15 minutes a day over the period of several months and you’re bound to see a jump in words.Why bother?  It’s fun!  Since underlying issue with apraxia is neurological, it’s like an exercise for your brain cells just as you’d exercise the rest of your body.  It helps your child’s mind and body work more effectively together. 

2-Box It Up, please.Equipment: Boxes—big, little and in-between sizes + imagination.  Make sure there are no sharp brads or corners and then let the kids have at it!What you do:  Create toys, forts, stages, and playhouses. Prod your child to describe—using words, of course—what he is doing.  Making a robot?  Ask to him to identify body parts.  A Doll house can focus on words like window, door, inside, outside. Why Bother? Kids use their imaginations and creativity (think fine and gross motor) to paint, cut, tape, fold, and construct.  It builds problem-solving skills and a larger vocabulary.

3—Freeze Frame. 

 Equipment: Music (CD player, radio) + kidsWhat you do: Put on some rockin’ tunes and have the kids dance, wiggle, jump and move to the music.  When the music stops, everyone freezes and says a word, phrase or approximation of a word.  The key is—they have to say somethingWhy Bother?  Besides fun and exercise, it works the vestibular system and helps those words come out. 

4—Rollin, Rollin’ Keep Those Kids Rollin.’

Equipment: Kid(s) + adult(s) and a flat,open place to roll around.What you do:  Lie down, grab your kid and wrap her to your chest with your arms.  Roll back and forth saying, “I’ve got…mommy/daddy/baby brother/teacher/friend/neighbor/ grandparent.  You and your child take turns saying who they’ve “got.”  If your child can’t  say the entire phrase, “I’ve got Papa,” just have him say “papa.”Why Bother?  It helps by practicing names of family members in a non-threatening, on-the-spot manner.  Aunt Shannan isn’t really there when you are practicing this activity, but when you do see her at the next family gathering, your child will be more comfortable with saying her name.  It also encourages parent-child bonding and it stimulates the all-important vestibular system.

5—Get in the swing of it!

Equipment: Swings at the park, in your backyard, even hanging one from the rafters in your basement works. What you do:  Push your child till your arm falls off.  As you push, think of target sounds, words, phrases to work on with your child.  Practice the ABCs, perfect her name, count to ten.  Whatever interests him.  Do this at least once a day for 15-20 minutes over the course of a few months and I promise you’ll see a surge in talking. Why Bother:  Can we say, “vestibular system?!” 

6—Do a Little Dance, Make a Little Word.

Equipment:  Adult and kid. What you do:  An Adult calls out different kinds of movements, “Touch the sky way up high—touch your toes way down low—wiggle your hips—rub your tummy.”  Child plays along and can repeat words as they feel ready.  Add in other body parts like nose, ears, hair, mouth, tongue, knees, etc.Why Bother:  Whole body movements help get your little pumpkin talking, it also encourages listening to direction, enhances receptive language and identification of body parts.  

7—If We Could Talk Like the Animals.

Equipment:  Nothing but you and a child with apraxia.What you do:  Think of all of the animals you can impersonate.  Can you make a great pig noise?  Do it—but really act like a pig by rolling around (as if in the mud), and after you are done oinking, say the name of the animal.  Bark like a dog…jump like one, pretend to take a dog on a walk, yep- lick like a dog, too.  Meow like a cat…rub head on loved one, practice purring, curling up.  Really get into it. Why Bother:  Besides the obvious fun and giggles you’re sure get, it helps your child learn about different animals and the sounds they make.  Plus barking less threatening than saying real words.  As your child gets better at this, she has to identify the animal by name (Eg, “Dog”) before moving on to the next one. 

8—Roll to Me, Baby. 

Equipment:  Kid(s) and a ball.What you do: Sit on the floor, spread out legs and take turns rolling the ball back and forth.  As the ball is rolling across the floor (modify over time by tossing the ball in air as your child’s skills improve), tell about a favorite something (food, color, season, friend, etc).Why Bother?  Conversations are all about taking turns (at least they should be!)….talker + listener = conversation.  Teach this concept early.  Even if your child is non-verbal, you can do this activity.  Modify it a bit by not having your child say anything.  You roll the ball and say, “Mommy’s turn.”  When it gets to your child say, “Kate’s turn.”  Do this until you (or she) tires of it, but aim for at least 6 passes.  

9—Hullabaloo Cranium Games

Equipment:  Get yourself to the toy store and put Hullabaloo in your cart.  You’ll be glad you made the investment.  This game is best for kids ages 3-8. What you do:  The game comes with a machine that calls out directions to players…”Hop to a mat with an animal,”  “Slither to a blue.”  It’s sort of like Twister meets charades. Why Bother: Kids have to pay attention, because if you miss something, you miss the whole thing.  Works on colors, categories, and shapes.  Great for building receptive language.  Step it up by adding in a word or a phrase your child must say on each turn. 

10–Take a Hike.

Equipment:  Yourself and a cool place to walk.What you do:  Walk around your park, neighborhood, local arboretum with your family.  Using the letters of the alphabet as a guide, find items along your path that begin with the letter, sound, or word your little sweetie is working on in therapy.  A variation, for example, would be to label every tree you see as you pass by, “Say tree.” Why Bother:  Repetition, whole-body learning, develop a love of nature, plus it’s a fun way to sneak those speech drills in. 

O.k., that ought to keep you and your little one(s) busy for awhile  All of these ideas are great for this time of year since we all tend to be running a slight temperature.  The diagnosis: Cabin Fever.  The cure:  this.  Have fun and keep the words a comin’!

About leslie1218

Author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) frantically working on a novel that should be ready for submission this fall. Mom of two spritely redheads & one chubby basset hound whose stories & images appear in my writing from time-to-time.

One response »

  1. Hi Leslie,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog! You have a lot of great information for parents. As a speech-language pathologist, I am happy to see you getting the word out about the importance of turning off the TV and interacting personally with your little ones. Talk, talk, talk to them, and then talk to them some more! It’s amazing what a difference it will make in their receptive and expressive vocabularies.

    I’ve also read articles speculating that the shows kids watch are helping to create attentional concerns, because they only have to concentrate on any one thing for a short time before moving on to something different. When you combine that with what you said about TV triggering their “fight or flight” reactions, it really concerns me that some parents use the TV as a babysitter as much as they do. Even “educational” videos aren’t as great as some people think, because studies show that children learn much more easily from parents than from videos.

    Keep up the good work in your blogs! I’ll stay tuned…

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