Most parents of newborns anxiously count the days until their baby makes
his or her first sounds or utters that magical first word. When those
days turn into months, or even years, anxiousness turns to anxiety.
At 6 months, when most babies are happily cooing or have begun to babble,
little Rocco wasn’t making any sounds at all. By 2, the age at which
a child’s “language explosion” typically has already
begun, Rocco could say “bah” and not much else.
“It was clear he had some speech problems,” remembers Rocco’s
mother Liz, a Hood River resident.
Indeed, Rocco was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), a condition
in which “a child’s mouth, tongue and teeth have a hard time
doing what the brain instructs them to do,” says Sarah Miller, a
speech language pathologist with Hood River Therapy.
Children with CAS know what they want to say, they just have difficulty
saying it. Often, they speak in only vowel sounds or chunks of words and
sentences are missing.
CAS can be the result of a neurological impairment caused by infection,
illness or injury, a secondary characteristic of another condition or
have an unknown origin.
Miller began working with Rocco last September. Rocco did show progress
when a speech therapist from St. Rita School for the Deaf in Cincinnati
stayed a week with the family last summer. But children with CAS show
the most gains from regular therapy, which Miller has been able to provide Rocco.
Miller is a member of Hood River Therapy’s comprehensive pediatric
program, where area children benefit from an array of physical, speech
and occupational therapy services.
Therapists with specialized training in childhood conditions collaborate
closely with area schools and care providers, including local doctors,
dentists and OHSU specialists referring young patients back to the community.
The clinic includes bilingual staff members and others trained in American
Sign Language. Liz says her son has shown measurable progress since working
with Miller. The master’s-trained therapist has been using drill-based
exercises to help Rocco train his lips, tongue and teeth to “do
the right thing.”
“It’s like training for a sport,” she says. “You
want to work the movement pattern over and over and over again to create
muscle memory. Rocco has been great. He will do word after word after
Miller uses hand signals to help Rocco visualize sounds, like “p,”
“b” and “d,” in the context of spoken words. Each
week she sends him home with a list of new words to work on. And he is
definitely working on them. “He has made significant progress,”
Miller says. “Before he wasn’t marking final consonants. For
example, the word “up” would come out as “u” without
the “p” sound. Now he has mastered vowel-consonant combinations
and is working on consonant-vowel-consonant words (e.g., “pop”).”
With three siblings, ages 4, 8 and 10, in a busy household, Rocco’s
continued progress is important to his development and relationships,
says his mother. Children with CAS don’t always have a cognitive
deficit. Some, like Rocco, have expressive language problems but excellent
receptive language skills.
“He can get frustrated when people can’t understand what he
is saying, so it is important for him to be able to use the words he needs
to communicate,” says Liz, adding that his older siblings are very
supportive and help him communicate with others at school.
She says she has high hopes that in the next few years her son will be
“speaking like everyone else.” Before Rocco began working
with Miller, she wasn’t so optimistic.
THERAPY FOR KIDS
The Building Blocks Pediatric Therapy program at Hood River Therapy offers
personalized one-on-one services for children and families in conjunction
with school-based therapies, for additional treatment or to address critical
mobility, daily living and communication skills that may not be provided
in other settings.
Physical therapy, speech language pathology and occupational therapy is
provided to children of all ages (adults also have access to the same
services at Hood River Therapy).
For more information about the pediatric therapy program or other services
and referrals, please call Hood River Therapy at 541-386-2441.