Wednesday, July 1, 2009
For Julia... Whatever It Takes
[by Tom K., essay as part of application for CASANA's Parent Scholarship Program for the 2009 National Conference on Childhood Apraxia of Speech]
My wife and I are the proud parents of a six year old daughter named Julia and she has been diagnosed with Speech Apraxia. Julia came into our world as a beautiful baby girl just a few days before the 4th of July in 2002. As Julia grew and became a toddler it became very evident that she was not talking and when she did try to utter words they were very difficult for us to understand. At this point we had plenty of input from parents, grandparents and friends. They all had advice as to why Julia was not talking: Julia was fine, she would talk when she was good and ready. Some advice even went as far to tell us that their children didn’t talk for the first time until they were three or four years of age. In order for Julia to communicate with us during these early stages she would point, jump and make utterances.
I vividly recall a trip to Disney World we took in 2005; at this point Julia was three years of age. We had a great time at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and when it came time for the “Electric Light Parade” Julia wanted a Mickey Mouse balloon, because we could not understand Julia’s request or realize what she was pointing at in a crowd of people, needless to say the day at Disney ended in tears from Julia. For the very first time we witnessed what a difficult time Julia had communicating even with us.
While we watched and hoped for Julia’s speech to progress I was transferred to as part of a job relocation. This was a major change in our lives. Both my wife and I had never lived away from our hometown but we made the decision to move our family of five. Little did we know that this decision would put us on the path to Julia’s diagnose of Speech Apraxia.
As we settled into our new home, Julia’s speech continued to struggle. My wife Tracie knew that Julia’s speech was not progressing as it should and she took matters into her own hands. My wife contacted the office in our county that dealt with special needs children. After six months of in home visits and a special program at the Area Education Agency (AEA), Julia learned sign language and she was able to communicate a little better. Because the AEA is a state run organization they were unable to give us a diagnosis. This was not good enough for us and so a battery of tests began. Trips to the neurologist, MRI, sleep test, tonsils removed and still the doctors could not tell us what was wrong. We then took Julia to a nearby city for another round of tests in which she was diagnosed with Speech Apraxia.
My wife, who has championed to help Julia continue to strive even though she had Speech Apraxia, would not settle. She knew that other then speech, Julia was developing as all other children her age. Through the AEA, Julia was able to attend preschool through the public school system and received specialized instruction for speech therapy. Julia’s Speech Pathologist Mary Beth was truly an angel in Julia’s life. Mary Beth took great interest in Julia’s disability and worked tirelessly to try and find other resources that we could take advantage of while school was out of session or even after school hours. We could see the dedication that was shown by Mary Beth and the path was now set for Julia to get the help she desperately needed. Mary Beth helped us get a scholarship through the hospital so Julia could obtain extra services in the summer.
When Julia entered Kindergarten we decided to send her to Catholic school. Her new speech therapist was not as enthusiastic about Julia or her condition, and we once again hit a brick wall. The difference this time was that Julia was beginning to know the difference as well. She was having difficulty communicating with her classmates and at time was made fun of. I can truly say that this was one of the hardest times in mine and my wife’s life. Although Mary Beth was no longer working with Julia, my wife called and Mary Beth referred us to a specialized program at a nearby college. Mary Beth was not sure they would have openings but it was worth a shot. The college offered a program through their Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. It was here that we were put in contact with a professor who was an apraxia expert, after my wife’s first phone call she put down the phone and cried. Someone understood and could explain what was going on; we felt hope! This program and the individuals associated with it have been the most significant and inspirational aspects of Julia’s treatment for Speech Apraxia.
Julia attends classes at the college three days a week for twenty minute sessions with a student at the college who is studying to work in the field of Speech Pathology. The program is closely monitored by the professional staff and we and everyone who knows Julia have witnessed a transformation. Julia’s ability to communicate has improved dramatically in the past year and a half. We know now that God has played a role in this journey. If I had not taken the job transfer we would have never found Mary Beth and we would have never found out about this wonderful program at the college. It is expensive to send Julia and I have taken on a second job in order to help defer the costs associated with the program, but no amount of money can be placed on what we have received and the progress our daughter has made. In fact we now joke that Julia is never quiet.
Recently we were asked if we would like to participate in an apraxia research study. We were more than honored to have been asked to participate in this study so that families like ours might some day gain a better understanding of this disability. When ever we are asked to participate we say “YES”! We will do what ever it takes to help others by getting the word out. The college professor and the student's in the program have given us and our little girl the ability to communicate and for that we are grateful. We know we have a long journey ahead of us with Julia but we are also very much appreciative of the progress made to date.