I was asked to write this up for the Speech and Language Services in Nelson, since they are having an open house/celebration this February. I’d thought I would share it with you all.
When my son was a baby, we sometimes called him Silent Sam. He spoke a few words before the age of one, much to our delight, but then, mysteriously, would never utter the same word again. If we urged him to repeat that word, he would hang his little head, as if in shame.
Nick was a charming baby, full of smiles. His easy-going nature and intelligence shone, and he was very easy to love. His babbling, though, was very limited. The speech milestones were slow in coming; even though he clearly understood everything we said to him, he had a difficult time communicating with us.
I knew something was going on. Thankfully, my doctor put a referral through to the Speech and Language Services here in Nelson when he was 18 months old. At that time, he was saying only “Mama” and “Dada”. By the time he was two and we received the call for an assessment, he still had no new words.
We met with Rosie Eberle, SLP, in January of 2001. Upon assessment of Nick, we learned he has Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
Grief fell over me. In a way, I felt robbed of that “perfect child”. Learning about Apraxia, though, gave me insight to my son that relieved much of my angst. It explained so much about his behaviour and inability to talk. Even though I was terribly sad for my son, I knew I had to be strong and help him every way I could so that he had every chance to meet this head-on and ultimately overcome this to lead a rewarding and rich life.
Immediately, Rosie started therapy with Nick. I learned sign language along with him, so that he could communicate his needs to us without the added frustration of difficult speech. This drastically alleviated his own level of distress. He could tell me he wanted more, or that he wanted to play, or that he was thirsty. The joy in his face when he could “speak” to us through sign was immeasurable.
There were bumps in the road. I was met with disapproval, distrust, doubt and suspicion about his diagnosis, sometimes even from people in our family. The decision to have my son in therapy and learning sign language was second-guessed by “arm-chair critics”. I was “advised” that his diagnosis was probably wrong, or that he was a “late-bloomer”. I was met with negative judgment and condemnation. I learned to trust my own instincts when met with opposition, and to speak up for my son. I wore the mantle of being his advocate proudly.
But we were also embraced by positive people who were excited about being part of Nick’s “team”. They eagerly learned sign too, helping Nick feel as if he was truly part of everyone’s lives. Love and support were bestowed upon us. Little successes in his speech were celebrated with joy and elation. These people learned to give Nick time to communicate, to have patience when he had difficulty and to love and accept him, no matter what.
Through the three and a half years that Nick was involved with Rosie, his speech flourished. As he learned how to say a word, he would immediately drop that sign. Before we knew it, the 200 or so signs that we had learned were needed less and less, until we stopped signing altogether. By the time he entered the public school system, his speech was on par with other children his own age.
He still struggles with certain sounds. He sees a private speech therapist now, to help him. He will always have Apraxia. But that no longer defines him.
I deeply believe that if it weren’t for early intervention and therapy, I would be telling a different story. I am forever grateful for the quick and loving response of Rosie, my family and friends, and most of all, I am thankful for my son. His hard work and perseverance in overcoming Apraxia is incredibly inspiring, and has shown me how strong, resilient and brave the human spirit is. This was always his journey. I am just lucky enough to walk alongside him.