Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that affects a child's speaking ability and oral functioning. A child with this condition generally has abnormal speaking patterns and difficulty enunciating words. Depending on the severity some children may not be able to control their mouth muscles.
This can be tough on both the child and the parents. Childhood dysarthria can have several causes. But is most often due to a birth injury in which the section of the brain that controls the speech muscles is damaged during the delivery process. Sometimes, a dysarthria diagnosis is what leads parents to call a birth injury lawyer because, for the first time, they realize that a doctor's negligence might be the root source of this problem.
Dysarthria is permanent. In severe cases, a child can completely lose their ability to talk, which results in them needing special equipment to communicate. But this is severe cases and calling dysarthria permanent is misleading. The underlying injury may be permanent but the child's ability to work around the injury can often be stunning.Symptoms of Childhood Dysarthria
Dysarthria is usually not detected until a child reaches a certain age or when they're able to start speaking. Once they begin learning how to talk, the symptoms of dysarthria become easy to recognize. The child will have obvious difficulties in speaking properly and it may be hard to understand what they're trying to say. Depending on the severity and location of the brain damage, children with dysarthria can exhibit different symptoms. A child with this condition may experience one or multiple symptoms that are listed below:
- Slurred speech pattern
- Speaking that lacks normal rhythm and intonation
- Speech that is unusually fast or extremely slow
- Inability to control the volume of speech
- Involuntary mumbling
- Difficulties properly enunciating words
- Hyper nasal or hoarse voice
Brain damage from a birth injury can also affect the movement of the child's mouth. They may lack the ability to move and control their jaw, tongue, and lips. This limited movement can present issues with being able to eat and swallow food independently. Children experiencing these symptoms will need additional assistance to receive proper nutrition and could require someone to help with excessive drooling and saliva buildup.Causes of Dysarthria
There are several underlying causes to dysarthria in adults, including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington's disease. However, childhood dysarthria is typically caused by a birth injury which injures the brain. Mothers who experienced a difficult or prolonged delivery are at a higher risk of their child being injured in the process.
When a baby goes through the birth canal, there is a large amount of pressure being put on the baby's head from the vaginal walls or cervix. In normal circumstances, this pressure is relieved as they continue to be pushed out of the mother's body. If the delivery process does not progress normally, it can cause the baby to be stuck in place for an extended amount of time. This allows the pressure to become too severe for the baby and can result in external head trauma. Cephalopelvic disproportion, a delivery complication in which the baby's head is too large to fit through the mother's pelvis, can also deliver an excessive amount of pressure on the brain.
Another way dysarthria can develop is when the baby is deprived of oxygen during birth. Even a short period of oxygen deprivation during birth can cause hypoxic damage to the baby's brain cells. Hypoxia (or hypoxic injury) is the process by which cells in the human body decay and die from lack of oxygen. Going without oxygen for even a few minutes at this delicate stage of life can be enough to cause brain damage. Brain damage from hypoxia can affect other parts of the brain that control motor function. It's common for a dysarthria diagnosis to be connected to cerebral palsy, which is another condition related to brain damage during childbirth. Approximately 20% of children with CP have dysarthria.Treatment for Dysarthria
Dysarthria is a permanent condition which cannot be "cured." It can, however, be effectively managed and limited with treatment. Many children make stunning progress with great treatment. If your child is struggling with dysarthria, it is important that you remember this.
Treatments for dysarthria differ from person to person depending on what kind of symptoms they're experiencing and the severity of their condition. In most cases, a child will need therapy that uses various oral motor strengthening exercises. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is usually brought in to administer these therapies and work one on one with the child. An SLP can create an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to the unique needs of the child. There are different goals for speech therapy, including:
- Improving speech articulation and enunciation (including treatment targeting improved control of relative syllable durations and even singing exercises)
- Controlling speech rate
- Adjusting the volume of speech by using breath support activities
- Increasing movement in the jaw, mouth, lips, and tongue
- Improving oral muscle strength
- Speech Systems Intelligibility Treatment (SSIT)
- Lee Silverman Voice Treatment LOUD (LSVT LOUD).
Ataxia-tailor speech treatment may also be effective.
For some children with dysarthria, they have lost all speech ability and typical treatments are not effective in improving the condition. These children will need to learn how to communicate in other ways, such as using special computer programs, picture boards, or sign language. Young children may start by using simple gestures to communicate their wants and needs. Because the child's brain damage is localized, dysarthria does not tend to get worse over time. (This will not feel like the case with children because they are going to have good days and bad days like all kids do.)Dysarthria Birth Injury Compensation
One of the reasons why birth injuries are so common in medical malpractice lawsuits is because they are often preventable. Medical mistakes and errors by doctors assisting women in delivery can cause a baby to have irreversible brain damage. When a baby becomes stuck in the birth canal or is at risk of becoming hypoxic, doctors are supposed to perform certain maneuvers promptly to prevent injury. Unfortunately, there have been cases involving unqualified doctors being allowed to use these maneuvers or doctors using excessive force to deliver the baby in time. Children who developed dysarthria as a result of a doctor's carelessness or negligence may be able to receive compensation for their injury.Dysarthria Verdicts and Settlements
Below are settlements and verdicts in cases where the child suffers from dysarthria.
- 2017 New York, $4,098,267 verdict: A mother reports to the hospital because the fetus had stopped moving. Fetal heart monitoring readings were "non-reassuring" so the OB/GYN performed a biophysical profile test of the fetus and gave a very low score of 2 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the healthiest). The head of the hospital's maternal-medicine department was brought in to perform another biophysical profile test. This doctor gave a score of 8 and sent the mother home. The next day the fetus was still not moving and additional health assessments were very concerning so an emergency C-section delivery was performed. The baby was born with meconium aspiration syndrome and had suffered hypoxic brain damage. He was eventually diagnosed with dysarthria with loss of mouth muscle control and motor function impairment. He sued the hospital for malpractice claiming that he should have been delivered a day earlier and that his mother was negligently sent home from the hospital. Defendants contested causation but the jury was not persuaded and awarded the plaintiff $4 million in damages.
- 2014 New York, $250,000 settlement: A newborn suffered permanent brain damage due to hypoxia which resulted in several neuro-developmental challenges, including motor and language delay, dysarthria, and cognitive impairment after being born through C-section. The baby experienced fetal bradycardia during birth which created an emergency where there was a limited amount of time to deliver the child. The plaintiff, through the baby's mother, contended that the defendants were negligent for failing to render appropriate care and treatment promptly to her during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The defendant disputed liability and the case was resolved with a $250,000 settlement.
- 2002 Washington, $1,801,000 settlement: A newborn was born via vacuum extraction at the defendant hospital and developed a large bruised area on his head from the vacuum's force. The bruising continued to spread over the baby's cheeks and face. After being discharged, the baby became jaundiced and when he was brought back to the doctor, his blood was not tested to measure his bilirubin levels. Jaundice progressed into kernicterus, which caused permanent brain damage and resulted in dysarthria and sensory problems. The plaintiff claimed the defendants were liable for her son's injuries by using excessive force during vacuum extraction and neglecting to record the baby's bilirubin levels to avoid complications. The two parties settled with the plaintiff receiving $1,801,000.
Your child's dysarthria diagnosis might be the first time your considered that the cause of the problems your child is having is a birth injury due to the negligence of a doctor during the birthing process. The birth injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can help investigate your case and determine whether your child's dysarthria may be related to medical negligent during delivery. Do not focus on the age of your child because the statute of limitations is different in most jurisdiction for children. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.