Speaking is a complex motor task that requires many muscles including muscles for articulation, respiration, and phonation. The tongue and lips must move quickly and efficiently to produce the many different sounds we use to communicate. If there is damage, speech may become difficult to produce. Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder caused by damage to the brain or nerves that innervate the muscles used for speech. The causes of dysarthria vary and include stroke, traumatic brain injury, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, tumors and more. A speech-language pathologist can perform assessments to figure out what speech problems are occurring and what the best treatment may be.
What are Dysarthria Symptoms?
-Hoarse, rough, or strained vocal quality
-Running out of air while speaking
-Changes in your volume, either speaking too softly or too loudly
-Slurred or mumbled speech
-Difficulty pronouncing/articulating words
-Changes in rate of speech, such as slower/faster rate
-Difficulty moving your lips, tongue, or jaw -People ask you to repeat yourself frequently
Communication Strategies for the Speaker
There are many strategies you can use if you have dysarthria and the strategies you choose will depend on the symptoms you have. Some common strategies are to speak up, over-articulate, and slow down (Think SOS). With over-articulating, think about making bigger movements with your mouth. The SOS strategy is helpful if your speech is fast, you speak with a lower volume, and your speech is slurred or mispronounced. If you find yourself running out of breath when speaking, then phrasing (pausing to take a breath after 3-4 words) may be helpful. Using a pacing board or taping your finger can be helpful if your speech is too fast.
Communication Strategies for the Listener
Make sure the environment is set up for successful communication. Be in the same room as one another, FaceTime instead of call, choose a quiet environment and be face to face with one another. Pay attention to the speaker and look at them. If you do not understand the message, do not pretend to understand. Instead, clarify what you did understand and ask yes/no questions. If you understand part of the message but missed one word, instead of asking “what”, forcing the speaker to repeat the whole phrase, specify what information you missed.
“I need to go to the store to buy some mk”
“you need to buy what?”
You can also assist a speaker by reminding them of their strategies in conversation.
Remember that every individual with dysarthria is different and that treatment approaches will vary based on their needs. Brains are incredible and capable of Neuroplasticity-forming new connections and pathways and changing over time. Even when damage has occurred in the brain, it is possible to make new neuron connections and adapt. In speech therapy, individuals with dysarthria can learn new strategies to communicate and maximize the changes that occur in the brain.