Aphasia vs. Apraxia: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever heard the terms “aphasia” and “apraxia” and wondered what they mean? These are two medical conditions that affect a person’s ability to communicate, but they are not the same thing. So what’s the difference?

While both of these conditions can affect communication, they have key differences between them. Understanding these differences will help to properly treat individuals with these conditions.

In this article, we will...

  1. explore the characteristics of both aphasia and apraxia,
  2. learn about their key differences
  3. how they are approached and treated differently.
Let’s get to it!
What is Aphasia

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder that occurs when there is damage to the areas of the brain responsible for language processing. It’s often associated with stroke or traumatic brain injuries. It may also be present with brain tumors and neurodegenerative disorders. Since it’s related to a specific area of the brain, the severity of the disorder depends on the extent of the brain damage.

This disorder affects all language skills, including speech, reading, writing, comprehension, and more. Depending on the type of aphasia, people experience the disorder the same way. Some of the common types of aphasia include:

    • Broca’s Aphasia (Non-Fluent Aphasia) – where someone may have difficulty speaking, but can understand others.
    • Wernicke’s Aphasia (Fluent Aphasia) – where they can speak fluently, but the speech doesn’t make sense and they have a hard time understanding others.

That said, Aphasia doesn’t impact intelligence. However, the experience can be frustrating especially when communicating with others at home and at work. Individuals with aphasia may struggle to communicate their thoughts, leading to isolation.

What is Apraxia of Speech

What is Apraxia of Speech?

Apraxia of Speech (or AoS) is a motor speech disorder that affects the way messages are sent from the brain to the speech muscles. It makes it difficult for someone to plan and coordinate movements necessary for speech.

There are also two main types of apraxia: acquired apraxia of speech (possibly through extensive head trauma) and developmental apraxia (experienced from childhood).

Speaking requires a lot of fine oral motor skills as we move our lips, jaw, and tongue. Without the right signals from the brain, people with Apraxia of Speech have a hard time speaking. They may struggle even if they have the muscle strength and tone to perform the right kind of movement.

Aphasia vs. Apraxia What’s the Difference

What Makes Them Different?

Both apraxia of speech and aphasia can affect the way someone communicates. They can cause difficulties in speaking, understanding language, and carrying out physical tasks. However, despite some similarities, there are distinct differences between these two conditions.

The first one is the focus of the disorder. Apraxia of speech affects the coordination of the muscle movements required for producing speech. In contrast, aphasia affects language retrieval, recognition and comprehension.

Because of these differences their diagnostic assessments can be different. For apraxia, observing speech will help determine if their having pronunciation or pacing issues. Aphasia’s assessments focuses more towards language skills and comprehension.

Difference in Causes

One of the key differences between Aphasia and Apraxia of Speech is their underlying causes. Both may linked with head injuries or stroke. In some cases they also appear as effects of other neurological disorders, like dementia.

While both are related to complications in the brain, are effects of different damage areas. Damage in the language processing areas (commonly associated with the left side of the brain) may result in Aphasia. Damage in the area responsible for planning and coordinating movements for speech result in AoS. It’s also important to note that apraxia is not caused by weakness of speech muscles.

However, there is a type of Apraxia (developmental) that may not be caused by damage, but by genetics instead. Those that start out young with Childhood Apraxia of Speech still have unknown causes, and further research is still in the works.

Difference in Warning Signs and Behavior

Some of the common characteristics and warning signs also vary between aphasia and apraxia. Here are a few key effects of each.

It is possible for aphasia and apraxia to co-occur. AoS commonly shows up after a stroke along with non-fluent aphasia. However, it’s also possible to have non-fluent aphasia without apraxia of speech.

Aphasia and apraxia both affect an individual’s ability to use language. A comprehensive assessment is necessary to determine the appropriate support for recovery.

Difference in Treatment

Aphasia and Apraxia of Speech are speech disorders that have different treatment needs.
The primary goal of aphasia treatment is to improve communication skills and prevent isolation. Speech and language therapy can help develop personalized coping strategies. Individuals may recover language ability with consistent practice.

Depending on the severity of aphasia, a speech therapist may also recommend alternative communication methods (AAC). These include using picture boards, gestures and more.

Stroke recovery support groups can help prevent isolation too. This can help improve the quality of life of individuals with aphasia and their families.

On the other hand, AoS treatments focus on helping individuals develop the necessary motor skills for speech. Apraxia of Speech can take time to treat, and adults may need consistent therapy from weeks to years to improve their speech.

Children with Apraxia of Speech do not outgrow it and need intensive speech therapy sessions. In severe Apraxia of Speech, these kids may benefit from AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) materials and devices.

Aphasia and Apraxia of Speech are communication disorders with different causes, effects and treatments.

Aphasia is caused by damage to the language processing areas of the brain. Apraxia of Speech is caused by damage to the area responsible for planning and coordinating movements for speech.

Speech therapy approaches vary between these two disorders, so it’s important to have a proper diagnosis. For both cases, recovery takes patience and time. But with consistent practice and guidance from a speech therapist, individuals may rediscover or find new ways to communicate.

Are you or a loved one experiencing challenges with speech? Get in touch and apply today to get support from our speech-language pathologists.

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Lauren Templeton - Apheleia Speech Therapy
Lauren Templeton

Owner & Speech-Language Pathologist

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