Scanning Speech and Multiple Sclerosis

Last year, I wrote an article talking about some of the speech issues that I encounter because of MS and how they are part of the reason I dread using a telephone. Today, I want to focus on one of my more common speech issues. One that can literally leave me speechless or at least sound confusing to those around me. When I am having a bad day, I often struggle mightily with what some people call “scanning speech”.

What is scanning speech?

Scanning speech (also known as staccato or explosive speech by some) is a form of ataxic dysarthria (a motor speech disorder caused by a neurological injury to the cerebellum. It is often seen in people with MS who have a lesion in that part of the brain). When someone has scanning speech, their words and even the syllables of their words are broken up. I may be saying the sentence “The sun is shining today!” but it may come out “The sun”, then a long pause, then the rest of the sentence. It may even come out as “The sun is shin”, long pause “ing today!”. The flow of what you are saying gets interrupted by long pauses. Many people describe it as the “melody” of the way people talk being disrupted. In fact, the word “scanning” in this case comes from the word “scansion”, a literary term for determining the rhythm of a line of poetry, usually by looking at the patterns of syllables in each line.

Different from aphasia

It should be noted that this is different than Aphasia (something I and many people with MS also suffer from), which is the loss of words. That old “it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t get it out” issue. Scanning speech is different, because you know what you are trying to say, it’s just getting interrupted as your body is trying to physically say it.

How does it affect us?

Like most speech disorders, scanning speech can have a pretty negative impact on communicating. As I mentioned before, it’s a big reason I hate talking on the phone (a lot of people actually end up thinking that the phone connection keeps getting interrupted). It can also be a little embarrassing when I’m talking to people I don’t know that well. Even if they know I have MS, they may not realize that this is a symptom. Since I often slur my speech as well, it can make me come off like I’ve had a few too many drinks. Speech issues like this can really make people shy away from others, making a lonely disease even more lonely. Aside from all of that, it’s extremely frustrating to experience this, especially when you are trying to get your point across to someone.

It’s very noticeable

We often talk about the invisible nature of many of our symptoms; this one certainly isn’t visible, but it’s very noticeable. The problem, again, is that few people realize this is a symptom of MS and can tend to think it’s some other issue. So I hope I can help raise some awareness about this and some of the other speech issues that those with MS may encounter. The best way to battle scanning speech, as well as other speech disorders, is to meet with a speech therapist. They can often work with you to help lessen the issue or come up with other coping strategies.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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