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What can Ronda Rousey teach us about speech therapy?

Our speech pathologist talks Ronda Rousey and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Who doesn’t love a shoutout from Ronda Rousey? Speech language pathologists sure do, especially when we hear Ronda say this: “Shoutout to all speech therapists. You’re all awesome. And the best thing about my recovery was that I was never allowed to feel inferior.” It’s hard to imagine Rousey, UFC bantamweight champion, feeling like she was anywhere but on top of the world. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a child, Rousey was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), a motor speech disorder. In recent interviews Rousey reports struggling with feeling of insecurity and inferiority following her diagnosis of CAS. During Rousey’s early years, there was question as to whether she would ever be able to use conversational speech. But with perseverance, intervention, and encouragement from her speech therapist and family, Rousey is now a well-spoken adult with a message to children with CAS: anything can be overcome with hard work no matter how insurmountable the odds seem.

Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables and words in the absence of muscle weakness or paralysis. Basically, the brain has trouble telling the body parts necessary for speech how to move in order to form speech. Children diagnosed with CAS don’t follow normal speech sound development and won’t “catch up” to their peers without intervention.

So what causes CAS? Unfortunately, in most cases we don’t know. CAS is a motor speech disorder, meaning something is interfering with the brain’s ability to tell the mouth muscles how to make the right sounds. Possible causes include genetic syndromes, stroke, or brain injuries or abnormalities. While there is no cure, we know miraculous progress can be made given skilled intervention.

Not all children diagnosed with CAS will present the same way, but diagnostic signs or symptoms do exist. A child with CAS:

  • May not babble or coo very consistently during infancy.
  • Uses very few consonant and vowel sounds and has a hard time combining sounds to form words.
  • Understands much more than he can tell us.
  • May say a word clearly once or twice, but then doesn’t say it again.
  • Struggles to imitate speech models. You may even be able to see him groping or struggling to coordinate his mouth when trying to talk.
  • Has more difficulty saying long phrases and sentences than short ones.
  • May have choppy speech with long pauses between sounds.
  • Can be very difficult to understand, especially if you aren’t familiar with his speech patterns
  • May have some difficulty eating

If this sounds like your child, an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist is imperative. A skilled therapist will help determine the best course of intervention. All children are so very unique, and therefore, treatment plans will be custom created based on several factors, including age, severity, and of course, your family’s schedule. However, research shows children diagnosed with CAS have a greater likelihood of success if they:

  • Receive frequent and intensive intervention (think 2-4 sessions per week in a perfect world). It’s important to remember the age and tolerance of your little guy when scheduling therapy. Four sessions a week may be too much for him.
  • Have the opportunity to work one on one with their therapist.
  • Are exposed to a “multi-modality” approach to intervention. This is just a fancy way to say using many different cues and strategies to help them create the sounds, including touch (helping him move his lips to say “pa”), visual (looking in a mirror), and proprioceptive (pairing movement with sounds) cues. These kiddos need to learn and remember HOW to move their speech muscles so your therapist may encourage them to repeat a word or syllable many times.
  • Practice, practice, practice at home! Even an intensive therapy program will give your child 3-5 hours a week AT MOST with his speech therapist, meaning he has 163-165 hours per week OUT of therapy room. Use those hours wisely and carve out time to practice everyday to see progress!

Resources for families:

References: - Childhood apraxia

*Photo from Ronda Rousey's Facebook page.


About the author

Amanda Fyfe is a speech-language pathologist at Cook Children's in Arlington and Mansfield. Speech/language pathologists focus on oral motor, speech, language and communication skills to enhance development, restore function and to prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury. Click here to find the closest Cook Children's Rehabilition Services near you.

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