By David Ozab
“Don’t worry, she’ll catch up.”
I heard that sentence from so many parents around Anna’s second birthday. We were worried about her speech; she was talking all the time but we could barely understand her while kids her age and younger spoke clearly. “Don’t worry she’ll catch up,” people would say. I said the same thing to myself. I figured it would just happen. Her speech was like an out-of-focus photograph. Sooner or later, I thought, it would snap into focus.
My wife Julia wasn’t buying it. She thought something was wrong, and she was right.
We might have realized there was a problem sooner if she hadn’t talked at all, but she babbled constantly since she was a baby. She interacted with everyone around her, so we knew she wasn’t autistic. She understood everything we said, so we knew her language comprehension was fine. She even sight-read a handful of words. Granted, they were animal names and she didn’t say the names, she made the sounds. But she knew what the words were.
We would write on her Magnadoodle:
So we knew she was smart, but she wasn’t talking and she wasn’t catching up.
What we didn’t know was that Anna had something we never expected; something we’d never heard of.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a motor-speech disorder thought to affect between one and ten children per thousand. Kids with CAS don’t “catch up.” They need years of intensive speech therapy before their mouths can make all the complex vowel and consonant sounds that make up comprehensible speech.
CAS is a spectrum disorder with four broad levels of severity: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. Anna’s Apraxia was diagnosed as severe. She spoke a lot, but almost everything she said was incomprehensible.
We were around her all the time so in context we were able to make out a handful of words–mama, dada, Anna, duck, Elmo, orange. With patience we could figure out more.
Her diagnosing speech-language pathologist (SLP) only understood one word: “no.”
Anna was two-and-a-half. She was not going to “catch up” without help. In her case that meant speech therapy, twice a week for the first two-and-a-half years and once a week since she started Kindergarten.
She’s been in speech therapy for almost four years now and the difference is extraordinary. We understand her most of the time (80 to 90%) and even strangers get most of what she’s saying. She’s understood by her teachers, her classmates, and total strangers. She’s a bright outgoing first grader with dreams of being a wildlife biologist, or maybe a writer, or a photographer, or an actress (she changes her mind every few days).
She has a long way to go, facing years of speech therapy along with occupational therapy to help her through her difficulties with handwriting, which we think is related to her apraxia. But she’s smart and personable and the best reader in her class, and her therapy has helped her find her voice and express herself to others.
So if you’re worried about your child’s speech, if your child isn’t speaking at all, or if, like Anna, your child is talking all the time but you can’t understand more than a few words, don’t assume he or she will catch up. See a qualified, certified SLP. Some kids are slow to talk and will catch up. But other kids have motor-speech disorders and need help.
Don’t worry, but don’t wait either, because without help you child may not have the chance to catch up.
Do you have concerns or questions about your child’s speech? Please post them in the comments.
Looking for more information? The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (http://www.apraxia-kids.org) is a great place to start.
And if you do have a child who’s been diagnosed with Aproxia of Speech, you should get a copy of Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech by Leslie A. Lindsey, R.N., BSN. It is filled with great information and boasts an extensive bibliography.
About the author:
David Ozab is currently editing and revising his first non-fiction book, A Smile for Anna, which tells the story of his daughter’s cleft diagnosis and surgery, her difficulties with speech, and her incredible outgoing spirit through it all. His writing has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Catholic Digest, and Errant Parent, as well as on his blog, Fatherhood Etc. He lives in Oregon with his wife Julia, his daughter Anna, and two lop rabbits named Jellybean and Oreo.