Please welcome Jenn Soehnlin, who attended the 2013 summer CHAMP Camp at George Washington University with her three-year-old son. Thank you Jenn for sharing your experience with us today!
When my little kiddo was two and still completely non-verbal, you can bet I was doing a lot of research online. I stumbled across Tori’s blog and haven’t stopped reading it since. Jake’s journey just seemed so similar to my kiddo’s and I was eager to learn more. To be asked to write a guest post for the blog that has brought me so much information, so much encouragement in our own walk with apraxia is an absolute honor, and to be honest, a little intimidating. But here we go:
We all have that story about how we slowly began to realize something wasn’t quite right with our child, about how we struggled to find out what it was. I’ll skip that part and start with when kiddo was two and we moved to another state. I had to start all over again finding speech therapists for him. Early Intervention took forever to get back to me, and the private clinics all had a six month waitlist—regardless of severity of speech delay. We added a baby to the family, but no new sounds or words to kiddo’s vocabulary.
Something was definitely wrong, and I kicked into desperate mama bear mode. Finally, after a gazillion phone calls, we were able to get kiddo to see our current speech therapist, who I call Ms. Blessing, because that is seriously what she has been to our lives. She has helped kiddo start babbling, to start making sounds, and start forming words and now phrases. She confirmed my suspicion of apraxia. She’s awesome.
But we were only able to meet with her twice a month, and all the research I’ve read says that kids with apraxia should have intensive speech therapy sessions 3-5 times a week. When the school year starts he will receive more speech therapy through the county, but until then, we were far short of therapy sessions, especially after going months out without any therapist. (Kiddo just turned three and says about 50 words.) So when I learned of a summer camp where children with apraxia would receive intensive speech therapy, my husband and I jumped at the chance to apply. We thought CHAMP Camp would be a great experience for the kiddo. And it was.
CHAMP (Childhood Apraxia and Motor Planning) Camp at George Washington University was created by the ah-maz-ing SLP Jodi Kumar. She has trained her clinicians well, and throughout camp she arms parents with strategies for working with their kids. Her passion for children struggling with apraxia is so very evident and she was indeed another blessing in our lives.
Meeting the parents of other children with apraxia at camp was also a blessing. It has been so great and encouraging to be around parents who are living with the same concerns, struggles, and victories. Just to have that kind of support is absolutely priceless.
A few of the many things I learned/realized during camp:
- Provide feedback as to how their sounds/words are coming out. Children with apraxia aren’t always aware of the sounds that are coming out of their mouths, and so they need to be told what they did say and what they should be saying. We also talked about how videotaping the kids talking and then having them hear it is great for them to realize how they sound and what they need to work on.
- Focus on language just as much as speech. It’s so easy to drill them on words, having them repeat everything we say, but we need to be focusing on their comprehension as well. Asking questions that will elicit a spontaneous response that we know they are capable of is a great way to do this.
- Continue to increase the expectations. Up the game. If your child can say words, then put the words in two or three word phrases. If they can do that then put their words in full sentences. Keep their momentum and progress going as they strive to meet your expectations. They will surprise you with what they are capable of if you just keep encouraging them.
- Encourage their progress while pushing them toward correct pronunciation. Instead of saying “you said it right/wrong or correct/incorrect” encourage instead “the old way of saying it was ____, but now we’re going to say it the new way, which is ___.” This is much more encouraging to them and makes them want to say it “the new way”, rather than feeling defeated that they can’t say it correctly. We want their word approximations to continue to get closer and closer to the correct pronunciation and this is a very encouraging way to do this.
- Using PROMPT/hand cues really helps with motor planning. Basically, it’s using a visual cue, or touching their mouth/face/throat in a certain way to remind them of how they are supposed to position their mouth to say part of a word. For example, to get the kiddo to say “me” the PROMPT hand cue is pointer and middle finger across the lips for the ‘m’ sound, and thumb and pointer finger on each end of the smile for the ‘e’ sound. It really does work well for the kiddo–every time his clinician did the cue on his lips, he came right out with “Mmmm-eeee!” 🙂 But just telling him to say “me” he sometimes says it correctly, sometimes he does not, and other times he doesn’t say anything at all.
In addition to CHAMP Camp in Washington D.C. during the summer months, I know of intensives in Michigan at the Kaufman Children’s Center, and in Arizona with Lynn Carahaly. If there are others specifically for apraxia, please let us know in the comment section.
It’s not that an intensive week (or two or three) of speech therapy will provide miraculous results. But it will provide progress, and I think most importantly, will supply you with the support and the tools you need to keep going on your journey. If you are able to attend an intensive, I highly recommend it. But whether you do or not, just know that you are capable of helping your child find their voice. They need your love and support, and they need you to push them to succeed. And they will.
To read a day-by-day account of CHAMP Camp or to learn more about Jenn’s journey with Childhood Apraxia of Speech, visit http://sweetapplesofgold.blogspot.com/.