What’s the Difference Between Dyspraxia and Apraxia?

By Kelli Johnson

I’ve heard two words used to describe my daughter’s trouble producing speech sounds: dyspraxia and apraxia. Is there a difference between the two?

Kelli Johnson

Educational Speech-Language Pathologist

This is a good question. There can be a lot of confusion about these two terms and what they refer to.

Apraxia and dyspraxia are both brain-based issues. And they both make it hard for the brain to plan and coordinate movement. But there’s a big difference between the two.

Apraxia typically refers to the loss of a motor function. This is often the result of a stroke or other kind of brain injury.

Dyspraxia is something people are born with. That’s why you might hear it referred to as developmental dyspraxia.

The key symptom of dyspraxia is trouble imitating a sequence of movements. Here’s an example. A child with dyspraxia can be watching carefully as his doctor taps her fingers against her thumb in a certain order. But when he’s asked to repeat those movements in the same order, he can’t.

Dyspraxia can affect many kinds of movement. This includes the muscle movements needed to speak. Dyspraxia can make it hard for the brain to communicate with oral-motor muscles such as those in the face and tongue.

Here’s where the clinical terms can get confusing. When it comes to the area of speech problems, you may hear childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) or verbal dyspraxia. Both terms describe the same issue, which is trouble planning the movements needed to make speech sounds.

CAS or verbal dyspraxia can occur on their own. Or they can be part of dyspraxia’s broader set of motor-planning issues.

Not all kids have the same symptoms. But many have trouble saying sentences that flow well. It’s also common for them to pronounce the same word in different ways. Their speech can be hard for others to understand—even people who know them well.

I want to mention two more things about CAS. The C stands for childhood, but this can be a lifelong condition. And even though the middle word is apraxia, CAS is really a form of dyspraxia.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are the people who typically use the term CAS. That’s because it’s preferred by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). This group oversees certification, research and policy in the speech and hearing professions.

Different types of health professionals may be more likely to use the term verbal dyspraxia. That’s because it’s used in key diagnostic manuals. One such manual is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

If your child has trouble planning speech or other movements, it’s a good idea to talk with her doctor. The doctor may refer you to a specialist who helps kids with these issues. That might be a neuropsychologist, a neurologist or an SLP.

A physical therapist or an occupational therapist may also be involved if your child has other kinds of motor symptoms. With the right treatment, kids can make a lot of progress in their speech.

The terms that different professionals use can be confusing. But don’t be afraid to keep asking until you understand their answers. This can help you make sure your child is getting the treatments and support she needs to succeed.

About the Author

Portrait of Kelli Johnson

Kelli Johnson is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.

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