Beaumont speech therapy preschool program helps Hunter find his voice

5/1/2013

Early intervention helps toddler overcome apraxia of speech

Stacey and Craig Peiser started to notice that their then one-and-a-half-year-old son, Hunter, was having trouble expressing himself verbally.

Stacey remembers taking Hunter to the playground, a place where toddlers can have their best conversations. But, when Hunter tried to talk to other kids, they couldn't understand him. They would look at him funny and walk away.

"As his mother, it absolutely devastated me," says Stacey.

So Stacey and Craig, of Birmingham, decided to speak with Hunter's pediatrician. After an evaluation, Hunter was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech. This disorder makes it difficult for children to coordinate the movement of their jaw, lips, tongue and soft palate, thus limiting their ability to form words.

At 2 years old, Hunter could only recognizably say 15 to 20 words, and after his diagnosis, his parents decided to enroll him in Beaumont's Speech and Language therapy program. He went on to join the Orchard Preschool program in April 2012.

"His receptive language was age-appropriate, meaning that Hunter knew what he wanted to say, however, he could not get the words to come out as clearly as other kids his age," says Megan Lees, his primary speech and language pathologist at Beaumont Children's Hospital's Center for Childhood Speech and Language Disorders at the Health Center in Royal Oak.

The Orchard Preschool program is for children between 3 and 6 years old who are diagnosed with apraxia of speech or phonological process disorders. A certified teacher with early childhood education and special education experience teaches the classes.

Children also have individual speech treatment sessions with a speech and language pathologist like Lees. When he was new to the program, she had Hunter imitate the isolated sounds she would make to help him build up to putting syllables together.

Almost two years later, Hunter's clarity of speech has greatly improved. "Hunter is an amazing little boy, and an incredibly hard worker. His parents are diligent with carrying over his goals and therapy into his home environment," says Lees.

Hunter, who turns 4 in May, can now communicate clearly using four or five word sentences -typical of a child his age.

In other words, the gut-wrenching days when Hunter would tell his mom a joke, but all that came out were hard to understand blurbs before he started laughing are now long gone.

"It's beyond words," says Stacey. "He has gone from unable to verbally communicate to being comfortable around other kids and wanting to participate in school activities and events. It's been life-changing."

The Beaumont Speech program is available year-round. For more information on scheduling, fees and eligibility requirements call 248-655-5975.