Speech Therpay Patient Fletcher and his mom, Cieara

Fletcher and his mom, Cieara - Ossineke, MI

"I want other moms to know that speech therapy works, and that early intervention is best. You know your child best so go with your instincts. Help is available."

Specialized Speech Therapy Helps a Young Boy Find His Voice

Three-year-old Fletcher was an excellent, animated communicator.  There was only one problem. "He didn't talk," said his mom, Cieara. "His vocabulary was limited to about 10 words and he only used those words when he had to, when he wanted something. He did a lot of pointing and gesturing."

Fletcher has six siblings in his blended family. "We're experienced parents, but having a child who wouldn't speak was new to us," Cieara said.

She questioned the speech delay when he was two, but did not seek help. "Nothing else was delayed, he is a smart kid and I kept hearing, 'This is normal,' so I waited," Cieara said. "When he turned three, I listened to my mom gut. This was not normal."

Fletcher's physician agreed and referred the family to MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena's Rehabilitation Services. There, Fletcher worked with Speech Pathologist Staci Brecker.

"From day one, we felt comfortable with Staci," Cieara said. "She created a plan specifically to meet Fletcher's needs and she explained everything, every step, as we moved along. She patiently answered all my questions."

"When I first meet a client, I do a language evaluation," Brecker said. "I look at how they communicate and go from there. I use child-directed play and find a reward that appeals to them. I actually got Fletcher to say 'bubble' during his first session."

During his second session, he added the word 'boo-boo' to his vocabulary. "She was great with Fletcher and he was excited to see her every week," said Cieara. "After meeting with Staci, he soared! During the first month, Fletcher gained 20 words and by the second month, he had added 40. After that, he was talking too fast and we had to slow down."

Fletcher was such a good student that he completed speech therapy in less than six months of weekly sessions. "He progressed from saying 'ba-ba-ba' and 'da-da-da' and gesturing to get his point across to saying, 'Mom, get me water, please,'" Brecker said.

"Family involvement is crucial because I see the child for only an hour a week," Brecker said. "I always have the parents in the sessions with the child so they can learn and model the behaviors. When they do, they are much more likely to see significant gains – and quickly. In Fletcher's case, his mom is very involved and is definitely a big part of his success."

"Staci showed me what to do at home and we implemented those steps right away," Cieara said. "For instance, she gave me words to practice with him and let me take photos of the cards she used and I would go through them with Fletcher at home."

According to Brecker, regardless of the type of speech therapy needed, early intervention is best. "The sooner, the better," she said. Weak language skills can cause a child to fall behind their peers when it comes to skill-building and social development. "Because we worked with Fletcher early on, he can make up for lost time."

While there is no hard and fast timeline for when toddlers should be speaking, there are accepted guidelines. "Babies are usually babbling and making sounds by six months," Brecker said. "If a toddler is not attempting intentional words by 18 or 24 months, I'd recommend an evaluation. If there are delays in physical development as well, ask for a referral." Since patients need a referral from a primary care provider, parents should work with their child's pediatrician if they have questions or concerns.

Cieara and her husband are delighted that Fletcher is communicating with words and is now on par with his peer group. "I had no idea that speech therapy was available for a child as young as two," she said. "I want other moms to know that speech therapy works, and early intervention is best. At the end of the day, you know your child best, so go with your instincts. Help is available."

Speech-language pathology can help children and adults with impaired speech intelligibility, language or cognition problems to decrease their frustration level and their ability to communicate and live independently. Speech-language pathologists at MyMichigan Health evaluate and treat a wide variety of communication, cognitive and swallowing disorders. Speech therapy is available on an outpatient basis at MyMichigan facilities in Alma, Alpena, Clare, Gladwin, Midland and Mt. Pleasant. Those who would like more information about speech therapy or any of MyMichigan Health's rehabilitation services may visit www.mymichigan.org/rehab.

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