An international study conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute made a breakthrough in identifying a potential cause of the more severe childhood speech impediment – apraxia.
One in 1000 children has apraxia, but underestimating the origins of this debilitating speech disorder has remained elusive until now.
A team of researchers, led by MCRI speech teacher Prof. Angela Morgan, identified anomalies in a key speech pathway of the brain connected to speech.
Professor Morgan said a better understanding could help neuroscientists and speech therapists develop more targeted treatments for children.
The research article, "Dorsal Language Flow Abnormalities in an Inherited Speech Disorder" is published in the latest issue of the international journal, Brain.
Prof Morgan, who is also a professor of Speech Therapy at the University of Melbourne, said that children with apraxia do not learn to speak clearly and combine sounds properly, time and sequencing of their words are also affected.
"People struggle to understand what they say, which has great long-term negative effects on their ability to form social relationships, self-esteem, academic achievement and quality of life," said Professor Morgan.
Prof Morgan said the research team was able to identify irregularities in a central brain pathway in patients with apraxia. "Normal MRI scans found no anomalies, but we used a very sophisticated scan that allows for the analysis of brain tractography, which measures the integrity of the brain pathways," Morgan said.
"We looked at the brains of seven family members with apraxia and found that there were central differences in a cerebral tract for speech – the flow of the dorsal tongue."
Dr. Morgan said that this newly discovered variation on this path of the brain seems to be critical to how people hear and produce speech.
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