Letter: Walk to help kids find their voice

To the editor:

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a disorder that seriously interferes with a child’s ability to develop speech. CAS makes it difficult or impossible for a child to plan the movements of the mouth that are needed for speech.

Children with CAS generally have a good understanding of language — they know what they want to say — but have difficulty carrying out the complex movements that underlie speech. Apraxia is one of the most severe of childhood speech and communication disorders.

Wednesday, May 14, marks the second Apraxia Awareness Day. I want to bring awareness to our community about this speech problem in children because, although there is little that is known about the disorder, and it is still very misunderstood, it has a huge impact on children and their families. Speech and communication are critical skills for young children to develop. These children must work and struggle so very hard just to learn a skill – speaking – that comes effortlessly to other children.

A little over a year ago, my four-year-old son Jason was diagnosed with CAS. Communicating what he needs or how he is feeling is a daily struggle. It wasn’t until the age of 2-1/2 that he said his first words, and even today his speech is not clearly understood unless you know him well. To aid in his communication, we use pictures, sign language or gestures, but he becomes frustrated by his inability to communicate.

Currently he is a student in our district’s amazing integrated preschool program at Hugh Cole Elementary School. There, his dedicated teacher, teacher assistants and speech/ language pathologist work with him daily to help him communicate despite his difficulties. Socialization with his peers is challenging, but each day he becomes more confident. We celebrate his great successes because each new sound is a step closer to finding his own voice. In addition, Jason has speech therapy after school and on the weekend for extra practice.

Apraxia does not stop him nor does it define him. He has an infectious smile with a great personality. He’s made me a better person and taught me to never take anything for granted. My husband and I are so proud of him and his hard work!

With early intervention and appropriate therapy, most children with Apraxia will learn to communicate with their own voices. Our family is very fortunate to be able to provide our son with the treatment and support he needs, but it can be very challenging for some. These children, as well as their families, deserve our respect for their effort, determination and resilience in the face of such obstacles.

Learn more about apraxia at Apraxia-kids.org. In addition, join us on Sept. 14 at Colt State Park for Rhode Island’s second annual Childhood Apraxia of Speech walk. Please help us raise awareness for these amazing children!

Melissa Bernard
Bristol

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