Trust a mother’s instincts: How Jackson learnt to find his voice

Watch: Jackson suffers from apraxia which means he was unable to communicate through speech.

When three-year-old Jackson was still not able to communicate with those around him, friends of his mother told her not to worry. He was just a boy and he would develop, was the message.
But his mum, Cindy, knew something was wrong – and she was right.

Jackson suffered from what’s called childhood apraxia of speech. It’s a rare disorder where a person wants to say something but the brain just won’t tell the mouth and vocal chords how to form the right words. It’s not about intelligence – it’s just that the words won’t form. They come out as a jumble of sound.

It’s not that the speech muscles are weak. It’s rather that the brain can’t tell the lips, jaw and tongue how to move to form the sounds which should come out as words the result in this case was that three-year-old Jackson from Bungendore just wasn’t communicating. He was silent, and his silence increasingly worried his mother.

Her fear – her intimation – was that something was wrong and that Jackson would just sink deeper into himself and never learn to communicate with others “As a three-year-old, he was non-verbal. He’d make noises and sounds but not words,” his mum said. “Apart from ‘Mum’,” the mum added.

But apart from that one, all-important word, “he had given up trying to verbalise anything because we couldn’t understand him.”

At which point, his mother knew that something had to be done, so she sought medical help. She was directed to a speech pathologist in Canberra.

Speech Pathology Australia describes what its members do: “They work with people who have difficulty communicating because of developmental delays, stroke, brain injuries, learning disability, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, dementia and hearing loss, as well as other problems that can affect speech and language.”

Bron Conroy in Canberra is Jackson’s speech pathologist, and the mother said the therapist has helped the lad immensely.

“He was very withdrawn and unable to interact with people,” the therapist said.

She introduced Jackson to an app which offered cartoon pictures on an iPad of a myriad things like food. Jackson learnt to press a button to indicate that he was hungry, for example, and gradually he was taught how to move his mouth to make distinctive sounds.

The app has thousands of symbols so the user can press one, and the app produces the word or phrases as audio. Sentences like “I want food” can be built up and be “spoken” out loud by the app.
The app does the talking – and so the user is able to communicate. Once a child communicates, frustrations diminish and learning can begin.

The app is one part of the process. It helped Jackson communicate. At the same time, he was taught how to move muscles in his mouth and jaw to get speech out.

And as time passed – after a mountain of hard work by him and those around him – Jackson learnt how to speak.

He has improved so much that he is now in school and communicating, reading and writing with confidence. A kid destined for frustration with himself and with the world around him now has a future.

“He had given up trying to verbalise because we couldn’t understand him,” his mother says.

“Now he’s one of the top five readers in his class. He’s confident and chatty. He’s doing so well,” Bron Conroy, the speech pathologist, says.

His mother has a message for other parents: “The big thing is to trust your gut.

“The amount of times friends would say, ‘He’s a boy. Give him time’.

“But deep down I thought that this wasn’t quite right.”

She wants to emphasise, too, the importance of early intervention. If things aren’t right, address it early.
As the Mayo Clinic puts it: “Diagnosing and treating childhood apraxia of speech at an early stage may reduce the risk of long-term persistence of the problem. If your child experiences speech problems, have a speech-language pathologist evaluate your child as soon as you notice any speech problems.”

Article originally published by the Canberra Times.