Hard Work Speaks Volumes
Six-year-old Logan Martin of Ferndale makes great strides in language development after a diagnosis of childhood apraxia of speech.
By Dwain Hebda, Photography by Lily Darragh
The old parent adage of "It's too quiet, something's going on," is particularly poignant for Emily and Gary Martin of Ferndale. It was the nagging thought that tugged at them daily over the lack of baby babble by their son, Logan, now 6 years old.
“At 14 months is when the pediatrician sent him to be evaluated because he wasn’t making any sounds and he wasn’t crawling or walking—he wasn’t doing anything but sitting up,” Emily remembered. “We were evaluated at 14 months and he started [outpatient] speech therapy at that time.
“Then at 2, he still was not saying anything and so they thought there was probably something more going on than just delayed speech.”
It was then that Logan was tested for, and diagnosed with, apraxia, a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to do things they recognize how to do, but for whom the brain cannot properly translate to other body systems what actions are necessary to complete the task. Logan’s diagnosis, childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) also sometimes called verbal apraxia, specifically affected his language development. Classified as rare by the Office of Rare Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, apraxia, or its various subtypes, affects less than 200,000 people in the United States.
According to the website of the childhood apraxia of speech Association of North America, CAS impedes patients’ ability to plan and produce the complex set of coordinated motions of the tongue, jaws, lips and palate that are required for intelligible speech. The patient may recognize an object, but imagine the brain as a television satellite receiving a clear signal but lacking the technical ability to decode that signal to the TV set and communicate with an audience.
So far, science has failed to explain what causes the condition, but any family that has dealt with it can attest to how perplexing and frustrating CAS can be.
“Logan is a very laid-back child; some kids get very frustrated because they can’t say it. He never really did that. He just did not speak,” Emily said.
“Then once he could start speaking, he just wasn’t producing the sounds clearly so a lot of people could not understand him, including us. That’s when he got more frustrated, when he was a little older. He knew what he was saying but we couldn’t understand what he was saying.”
The Martins looked for different resource in the community that could help Logan, initially with limited success, before they heard about Access Academy in Little Rock.
“We had several people tell us about Access, which was kind of difficult to get into, so we started outpatient therapy there the summer of 2013,” Emily said. “They actually had a spot come open that fall, so he started there in August of 2013.”
Many apraxia patients have an excellent prognosis with the proper help, and Logan is a shining example, said his mother.
“Access’ whole learning program in the classroom is very reading-based and so everything that they do is about sounds,” she said. “They may read one book for two weeks and really focus on the different sounds in the book, or if it’s numbers, they’ll focus on numbers. They’ll do basically a two- or three-week theme on one certain thing, and that’ll be everything they do those two weeks or three weeks; whatever it is.”
A bright student, Logan has flourished in the three years he’s attended Access Academy. Emily said the family noticed gradual improvement at first and then the floodgates opened for the boy.
“This past year, pre-K, we really saw a huge difference,” she said. “They’ve started doing a little bit more focusing on the sounds. They’re learning how to make every single sound, how to put sounds together, and then they start doing words and putting words together.”
Apraxia is often accompanied by other conditions such as autism, though that’s not the case with Logan. However, his condition also robbed him of early core strength development, and so he completes physical and occupational therapy as part of his school day to catch up. He also benefits from the protective tendencies of his 10-year-old sister, Olivia.
Emily’s advice for other parents is to trust their gut when it comes to what their baby is, or is not, doing. “Don’t hesitate to question the pediatrician, to get early intervention,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest success of most children with apraxia is just catching it early. If they’re not babbling—I mean, [Logan] didn’t babble at all—if your child’s quiet and not putting words together, definitely bring it up to the pediatrician.”
Although she knows that challenges lie ahead, Emily said watching Logan learn to deal with his condition is inspiring and gives her hope for his future. “He’s an extremely hard worker and that hard work pays off,” she said. “He works harder than probably most children, maybe than most adults, do in a day with therapies and he’s very patient. I guess good things come to those who work really hard.”