The right support can resolve even daunting problems for many children born with a disability. Just ask Courtenay mom Amanda Prince, whose newly communicative five-year-old son Yannick is proof of what a difference even a few months of intervention can make in a young child’s life.
The family was never in any doubt that Yannick was bright; at the age of two, he could program the TV remote for his baffled mother. But even as an infant, he hadn’t made the coos and gurgling sounds that other babies make. His lack of verbal skills became even more noticeable as he grew into a toddler, and doctors told the family that Yannick was likely autistic.
“It got to be really obvious that Yannick wouldn’t talk. He wouldn’t even try,” says his mother.
He’d had a traumatic birth, recalls Amanda, and then suffered another trauma at 18 months when a daycare worker in Quebec, where the family was living at the time, forgot Yannick in the car for two hours. “For months after that, he freaked out every time my husband or I went to get out of the car,” says Amanda.
The family didn’t know if either of those early traumas had played a role in Yannick’s inability to talk. But they weren’t certain he had autism, either.
After the family relocated to Courtenay in 2013, Amanda took Yannick to the Comox Valley Child Development Association. She was introduced to speech therapist Mary McKenna. Within a few sessions, the family was already seeing major improvements in Yannick’s verbal skills.
“A year ago, he could barely say anything – letters, numbers, no more than that. He couldn’t hold a conversation, and had a hard time listening to us,” says Amanda. “But within eight months, everything was different. We did have to do a lot of practising at home, but Mary gave us the proper tools to do that. None of this would have happened without her.”
Yannick got an hour a week of speech therapy at the child development association. That small amount of therapy “changed everything” in less than a year, says Amanda. Having scored below average on all the tests of his verbal skills when he first started speech therapy, he was scoring above average across the board when he was tested again six months later.
It’s now thought that Yannick has an auditory processing disorder, a hearing problem that affects about five per cent of school-age children. The brains of children with the disorder don’t recognize and interpret sounds in a typical way, particularly speech.
“Mary thought Yannick might need visual cues, so she helped his speech by giving him pictures,” says Amanda.
Yannick “graduated” from speech-therapy services in June 2015 and started kindergarten this fall, right on time for his age. Staff from the child development association met with the speech therapist and learning assistant who will be helping Yannick at his new school, and together they worked out strategies for ensuring a trouble-free year for Yannick.
If his teacher makes sure he sits “front and centre” in the class, for instance, he will be able to take visual cues from the other children regardless of whether he fully understood what the teacher just said. That’s the kind of small strategy that makes a big difference in ensuring that children with disabilities continue into their school years at their full developmental potential.
“You can still kind of tell that he has some issues – his talking is not as clear as others of that age. But it’s not a big enough difference that anyone stops to ask me about him anymore,” says Amanda. “I can’t even imagine where we’d be if we hadn’t had these services.”
How you can help: Learn more about child development and early intervention in British Columbia at www.bcacdi.org, and visit the Comox Valley Child Development Association at www.cvcda.ca. The association is a member of the B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention, which represents 30 agencies that deliver services to 15,000 children and youth.