Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that affects the strength, speed, or coordination of muscle movements for speech. It may affect the muscles of the mouth (lips, tongue, jaw, palate), throat (vocal cords, etc), and/or muscles related to breathing. Dysarthria is caused by damage to the nervous system due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, or diseases such as Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), etc. This disorder can occur in both adults and children.

Symptoms of Dysarthria

Symptoms will vary in type and severity depending on the amount and location of nervous system damage. They include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Reduced loudness
  • Very slow or rapid rate of speech
  • Abnormal speaking rhythm
  • Overly nasal speech quality
  • Hoarse or breathy voice
  • Drooling or problems with swallowing or chewing

Assessing and Treating Dysarthria

A speech language pathologist (SLP) will diagnose the type and severity of dysarthria by taking a thorough medical history, and assessing strength and coordination of mouth muscles. He will also look at voice quality, breath support for speech, and speech characteristics, and may assess swallowing ability.

The SLP’s goal is to improve speech intelligibility as well as to increase the safety of swallowing. Therapy will usually focus on improving the function of affected muscles; for example, through mouth exercises, breathing exercises, and voice exercises. In addition, the SLP will often teach the client and family compensatory strategies that can help make speech more understandable. These might include slowing the rate of speech, speaking louder, taking more frequent breaths, or exaggerating mouth movements while speaking. When dysarthria is severe enough to prevent effective communication, the SLP and patient may consider using augmentative/alternative communication systems.