Dysarthria is a speech disorder caused by muscle problems. It can make it hard to talk. People may have trouble understanding what you say. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

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About Dysarthria

We use many muscles to talk. These include muscles in our face, lips, tongue, and throat—as well as muscles for breathing. It is harder to talk when these muscles don’t work well. Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder. This happens when brain or nerve damage changes the way your muscles work. It can be mild to severe. Children and adults can have dysarthria.

There are many reasons people have trouble talking. Dysarthria can happen with other speech and language problems. You may have apraxia, which happens when your brain has trouble telling your muscles how to move. You could also have aphasia, which happens when you have trouble explaining your thoughts or understanding what others say.

Signs of Dysarthria

If you have dysarthria, you may experience any of these symptoms 

  • Your speech sounds different than before you had any damage to your brain or nerves.
  • You say words in a way that is hard for others to understand.
  • You "slur" or "mumble" when you talk.
  • You talk too slowly or too fast.
  • You talk to softly or too loudly.
  • You have problems moving your tongue, lips, and jaw.
  • You sound "robotic" or "choppy."
  • You sound hoarse or breathy.
  • You sound like you have a stuffy nose or are talking out of your nose. 

Causes of Dysarthria

Changes in the brain and nerves cause dysarthria. It can happen at birth or after an illness or injury. Anything that causes brain or nerve damage can cause dysarthria, such as

  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS
  • brain injury
  • cerebral palsy 
  • Huntington's disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • muscular dystrophy
  • Parkinson's disease
  • spinal cord injury
  • stroke
  • tumors 

Testing for Dysarthria

If you notice any new difficulty talking, you should see a doctor right away to help find a medical reason. Call 911 if you have any sudden changes in speech or communication. An SLP can test your speech and language to figure out if you have dysarthria or a different communication problem. The SLP will look at how well you move your mouth, lips, and tongue and how well you breathe. They will listen to your speech and voice. The SLP will test how well you understand and talk in single words, sentences, and conversation. If you use more than one language, then your SLP will test these areas in each language you use.

Treatment for Dysarthria

Your work with the SLP will depend on the type of dysarthria you have and how much of a problem it is for you. You may work on any or all of these activities:

  • Slowing down your speech.
  • Talking louder.
  • Moving your lips and tongue more.
  • Saying sounds clearly in words and sentences
  • Learning to make changes in your voice to show emotions
  • Improving the way you breathe to support clear and loud speech
  • Using other ways to communicate, like using gestures, writing, or working on a computer. These are types of augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC.

The SLP can also work with your family and friends to help them learn ways to talk with and understand you.

Tips for Talking With Someone Who Has Dysarthria

Good communication depends on both the person talking and the person listening. Here are some tips for both of you.

Tips for You

If you have dysarthria, here are some things you can do to help your listeners:

  • Before you start a conversation, tell a new listener that you have trouble talking.
  • Say one word or phrase before starting to talk in sentences. This will tell the listener what the topic is and help get them ready to listen. For example, you can say “dinner” before starting to talk about what you want to eat.
  • Check with listeners to make sure that they are fully paying attention and understand you. Try to always face the listener, so they can read your facial expressions, mouth movements, and gestures. You can also look at their body language to find out if they understand you.
  • Focus on changing one thing about the way you talk. Some people think about talking more slowly, more loudly, or with bigger movements.
  • Pause to let the other person think about what you have said.
  • Rest before and after talking a lot. Your speech may be harder to understand when you’re tired.
  • Add more visual information to what you’re saying. When you have trouble talking, try pointing to things, using gestures, drawing, or writing the most important words.

We usually think about what we want to say–but not about how we say it. Some people may need help remembering to use these tips, especially children and adults who are new to having dysarthria.

Tips for the Listener

Share these tips with your family and friends:

  • Talk to me in a quiet area with good lighting.
  • Pay attention to me when I talk.
  • Watch me as I talk. This may help you understand what I say.
  • Let me know when you have trouble understanding me. Don't pretend to understand me.
  • If you don’t understand my whole message, then repeat the part that you understood. Then I won’t have to start all over again.
  • If you still don't understand me, ask me yes or no questions. Or ask me to show you what I was saying by using gestures, pointing, or writing.

To find a speech-language pathologist, visit ProFind.

Other Resources

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