Starting to Talk at Age 10 Years: Lessons About the Acquisition of English Speech Sounds in a Rare Case of Severe Congenital But Remediated Motor Disease of Genetic Origin

Beate Peter, Caitlin Vose, Laurel Bruce, David Ingram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose This study was conducted to observe speech development in a child whose onset of oral communication was extremely delayed. In rare cases, children are born with physical limitations that temporarily interfere with speech sound production. Whether the development of speech sound production follows the same trajectory as that in typical children at younger ages is not well understood. Method We present a child who was wheelchair-bound and communicated nearly exclusively via augmentative and alternative communication devices due to severe congenital motor disease and generalized hypotonia. At age 10 years, her condition improved dramatically with medication after a mutation in a dopamine-related gene was discovered, and she switched entirely to oral communication. Observation of speech development was based on chart reviews, video recordings, and direct testing at age 15 years. Results At age 4 years, the participant's attempts at speech showed a small phoneme inventory consisting of early-acquired phonemes and large numbers of common phonological processes. Following the medical intervention at age 10 years, mastery of velars occurred after age 12 years and mastery of liquids was still incomplete at age 15 years. Conclusions Findings are consistent with general growth trends in speech sound acquisition that are independent of chronological age. Theoretical considerations regarding the role of motor control in the invariant order of speech sound acquisition are posited, specifically regarding articulatory building blocks. Clinical recommendations include interprofessional management of children with complex motor disease and referrals to genetics professionals in the care of such children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1029-1038
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of speech-language pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 9 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

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