Children can experience a wide variety of voice disorders. Some are present at birth, while others develop over time.

Although it is rare — only occurring in one to four people per 100,000 individuals — one serious voice disorder found in children is spasmodic dysphonia. Children with this disorder have spasms in the larynx or in the voice box, which makes it difficult to speak. These spasms are a result of neurological problems.

Often, children affected by spasmodic dysphonia experience symptoms of the disorder for the rest of their lives. However, sometimes the symptoms may subside for a short amount of time and then return later.

There are three kinds of spasmodic dysphonia, including adductor spasmodic dysphonia, abductor spasmodic dysphonia and mixed spasmodic dysphonia. Adductor spasmodic dysphonia is the most common type of the disorder.

The symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia vary from case to case, however, a majority of patients experience hoarseness and weakness of speech. Other potential symptoms include an inability to make any sound, voice tremors or a jerky, shaky sound. Voice spams may come and go throughout the day. All symptoms tend to be more noticeable when the affected individual is stressed or tired.

The cause of spasmodic dysphonia has not yet been discovered. It often runs in families, so it may be a genetic disorder. Also, some people develop spasmodic dysphonia as a result of an injury or after suffering an illness that damages the larynx or voice box.

While there is not yet a cure for spasmodic dysphonia, there are treatments that can help diminish symptoms of it. Having botulinum toxin, or Botox, injected into one or both vocal folds will relax the muscles in the larynx, making them weaker.

The most common recommendation is voice therapy with a speech-language pathologist. Seeing an SLP can help children produce a better voice. Having a medical team of a speech-language pathologist, otolaryngologist and a neurologist will help develop the best rounded treatment for speech needs.

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Patricia Gill is a speech pathologist with Boys Town.

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