Motor Speech Disorders

Motor Speech disorders are characterized by difficulty moving the muscles needed for speech production due to weakness or reduced coordination. Difficulty producing words may or may not correlate with aphasia and cognitive-linguistic impairments (difficulty understanding or using language). 

An evaluation is performed by a Speech-Language Pathologist to assess strength and control of facial muscles, breath support for speech, sound production (articulation), and sound sequencing.  Stimulability for strategy use and need for “back-up” communication modes (writing, communication board, etc.) will be determined.  The goals during therapy are to improve the range of motion and control of speech muscles, speech sound placements and sound sequencing for daily communication needs.

Tips for the Person with Motor Speech Disorders

  • Introduce your topic with a single word or short phrase before beginning to speak in more complete sentences
  • Verify that you are understood
  • Focus on word by word pacing
  • Try to limit conversations when you feel tired, when your speech will be harder to understand
  • If you become frustrated, try to use other methods, such as pointing or gesturing to get your message across, or take a rest and try again later

Tips for the Listener

  • Reduce distractions and background noise
  • Pay attention to the speaker
  • Watch for natural gestures and facial expressions as the person talks
  • Let the speaker know when you have difficulty understanding him or her
  • Encourage the person to reword a message if initial attempts were unsuccessful
  • Encourage the use of writing, drawing or gesturing
  • Encourage the use of a communication board displaying pictures, letters, words, or phrases to assist in communication


Verbal apraxia is a motor speech planning disorder.  This individual does not have any facial weakness.  A person with verbal apraxia is aware of the words they want to say, but have difficulty with planning and coordinating the muscle movements for speech production.  Writing is not typically affected if a person is suffering from verbal apraxia only but may be present if a limb apraxia has been identified. Sometimes clearer speech patterns are produced when a person says a spontaneous response or familiar phrase.


Dysarthria is characterized by weakness of the muscles used for speech production.  Speech is more difficult to produce and takes a longer time.  With multiple distortions, it can difficult to understand the speech production.  The speech sounds slurred and words run into one another.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What are some signs/symptoms of apraxia?

  • Struggle when trying to speak
  • Slow speech output
  • Uncontrolled repetition of previously produced words
  • Errors in sequencing syllables or sounds in words 
  • Vowel deviations

Q: What can a person with dysarthria do to help improve speech?

  • Oral motor exercises: Repetitive facial movements to improve the strength and range of motion of the oral musculature.
  • Over-articulation: Exaggerated movements of the lips, tongue and cheeks to make speech sounds as sharp as possible.
  • Phrasing: Slowing down rate of speech by producing a limited number of syllables/words per breath.
  • Pacing: Focusing on speech production word by word to avoid words running into one another.
  • Breath Support: Increasing air for optimal voicing, loudness and phrasing.
  • Prosody/Intonation: Exercises to improve the melody of speech.
  • Alternative Communication: In cases of severe dysarthria, a board displaying pictures, letters, words and/or phrases may be used to aid in communication. In cases of progressive neurological disease (e.g ALS,  Huntington’s Disease), nonverbal communication may become a person’s primary means of communicating.  In such cases, electronic devices are sometimes utilized.