Speech-Motor Compromise

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Houston Methodist specializes in diagnosing and treating complex neurological disorders that disrupt the interplay between the brain and the ability to speak clearly. 

Speech production requires motor coordination of structures of the respiratory system, larynx, pharynx and mouth. Speech-motor disorders such as dysarthria and apraxia disrupt brain activity, making it difficult to speak clearly. People with speech-motor conditions usually have normal cognitive function—they can read and understand language but have trouble vocalizing. 

Houston Methodist is nationally ranked for excellence in patient care and safety, backed by the latest research and treatment approaches. With specialized neurological care and speech therapy, patients can regain or improve their ability to communicate.

Diagnosing & Treating Speech-Motor Conditions

How are speech-motor conditions diagnosed?

At Houston Methodist, diagnosis starts with a comprehensive physical exam by our speech-language experts. We’ll review your medical history and symptoms and perform a speech evaluation. Our goal is to get to know you and understand the underlying cause of your symptoms. 

Symptoms can vary and may come and go, depending on your condition. Patients often report symptoms, such as:  


  • Slow speech that may be slurred or hard to understand 
  • Difficulty putting syllables together in the right order to make words 
  • Trouble saying long words 
  • Repeated attempts to pronounce words  
  • Omission of consonants at the beginning or end of words  
  • Unusual pronunciations  
  • Dependence on nonverbal communication, such as touch, body language, gestures or facial expressions


We may recommend advanced testing and imaging to help get to the cause of your symptoms and rule out other conditions. For example, difficulties understanding language may indicate something other than a speech-motor condition. Your neurologist may order: 


  • Blood and urine tests to check for infection or inflammation 
  • Biopsy, if a brain tumor is suspected 
  • Brain and nerve studies, such as EEG, EMG or nerve-conduction tests 
  • CT scan or MRI of your brain, head and neck 
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)  
  • Neuropsychological tests to assess cognitive function 


Depending on your symptoms, you may be diagnosed with one of two main types of speech-motor conditions:


  • Apraxia, which affects areas of the brain that control movements needed for speech. In adults, apraxia can be caused by head trauma, stroke or a brain tumor. In many cases, symptoms resolve when the underlying condition is treated. In children, the condition is usually present a birth and accompanies other health issues.  
  • Dysarthria, which involves weakness of or difficulty controlling the muscles used for speaking. Speech may be slow or slurred and difficult to understand. Dysarthria can be caused by certain medications, head injury, stroke or by a chronic neurological condition, such as Parkinson’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

What treatments are available?

Your personalized treatment plan will be designed to address the cause, severity and the type of speech-motor condition you have.  

For dysarthria, the most effective treatment is speech-language therapy. Specially trained speech-language therapists can help you control mechanics such as breathing, articulation and adjusting speech rate to improve speech communication.  

Apraxia treatment for adults typically starts with addressing the underlying cause of symptoms. However, children with apraxia need highly personalized, ongoing treatment with a speech-language therapist. These experts can help children form clearer sounds and complement speech deficits with other types of communication. 

What if I need advanced care or a second opinion?

We understand the frustration and isolation that comes with difficulty speaking. Whether you need a diagnosis or a second opinion, our compassionate team of speech-motor disorder specialists can connect you with the information, resources and care to improve your communication abilities.  

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