Mylie was two when her Dawson Creek family felt the first twinges of worry about the toddler’s speech. Their older son Nate had been an early talker. But by Mylie’s second birthday, she still had speech that sounded more like a baby speaking her first words than a toddler. Friends and family continued to assure Vicki that things would all straighten out in time, but she was growing concerned.
“At two and a half, things still hadn’t changed,” says Vicki. “Finally, at three, I took her to the pediatrician and we got on the wait list for child development services. We felt totally lost for a year,” recalls Vicki. “We didn’t know what to do. The pediatrician had said it might be apraxia, so we had that on our minds the whole time. That wait felt like forever.”
Mylie was almost four by the time she started receiving those services this spring. What is essential a provincial freeze on funding for early intervention therapies is now in its eighth year in B.C., and waits for services such as speech, physio, and occupational therapies are now months or even years long in many communities.
That’s a difficult situation at any time, but an even more serious problem in light of the fact that ages birth to five have been established as a special development period when targeted therapies can have the most impact due to the ability of the young brain to adapt.
Mylie now does weekly visits with the speech pathologist at the South Peace Child Development Centre, engaging in exercises and music therapy designed to stimulate and balance the inner-ear system. Some therapies have her spinning around, or rolling on a ball with her head down. Vicki says she’s “dumbfounded every week” by the new techniques she learns at the sessions with the therapist – techniques that she brings home and repeats with Mylie every day for 45 minutes.
“Apparently a lack of speech is a symptom of gravitational sensitivity,” says Vicki. “It’s like Mylie doesn’t know where she is in space. The cochlea in her ear isn’t relaxed enough for speech, so using the music and the rolling and spinning helps with that. She hasn’t been doing the therapy for very long yet, but it’s definitely helping already. What she’s saying is getting clearer.”
One new exercise Vicki recently added to her and Mylie’s home exercises involves a bowl of rice and various small objects hidden in the rice that start with whatever letter the child is working on that week. (For instance, in the B week, you might hide a ball, a button, etc.)
“The sensory receptors in the hand are the same as those in your mouth,” explains Vicki. “I just learned that this week! So I will hide all things that start with a certain letter, and Mylie will put her hand into the rice to find them.”
Mylie attended a regular preschool last year, and Vicki has nothing but praise for the preschool staff who went out of their way to meet Mylie’s needs. This year, she’s enrolled at Stepping Stones, the preschool right at the child development centre.
“I was really happy with the other preschool, but it’s nice to now have a little more specialized attention for Mylie, more one-on-one, swimming once a week,” says Vicki.
Speech is a key aspect of socialization, and it troubles Vicki to see Mylie starting to shy away from other children as a result of them not being able to understand her. Her speech challenges frustrate her, but some of the frustration has eased since Mylie began therapy and has been able to make herself understood more often.
“She has improved since we started the therapy, for sure,” notes Vicki. “And of course, her brother Nate always knows what she wants. It’s incredible to see – he always understands Mylie.”