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Health Matters

Our Journey. Our Struggle. Our Growth

May 1st, 2016

By Mandy Walter

“Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life”

– Hermann Hesse

As we sat in the doctor’s office patiently waiting for my son’s two-year check-up, I started to read the charts on the wall and I realized that my boy wasn’t fitting the recommended milestones. “Uses simple phrases, uses two to four word sentences, knows at least 50 words.” My light bulb turned on and I knew that something needed to be checked. As my family doctor came in for our appointment, I was brought out of my thoughts and back to reality. After listening to my concerns, she knew immediately what to do. Hearing tests and speech pathology assessments it was. Off to our local health center we would go.

The speech assessment was waitlisted and a hearing test was booked, so we waited. When we finally got in for our hearing appointment, the audiologist said “perfect hearing, nothing wrong.” Okay then, what’s next, I thought. An assessment for speech it was. A lady named Pam came out to greet us, and she was wonderful, as were all of the staff at David Thompson Health Region. Pam was very knowledgeable when it came to speech pathology and was so gentle while dealing with my son, Tyson. “A great candidate for our speech program,” she said. “We will put him on the list.” A short while later, we got the phone call! We would go once a week for 45 minutes for 12 week periods at a time. Tyson was matched up with a Speech Language Assistant named Wanda. Wanda would take us into a room and sit and play games with Tyson. She would help teach him how to form his mouth in the proper positions, and where to place his tongue in order to help create his missing sounds. We continued with this speech program from the age of two-and-a-half until he was four. Once he was four, I was given the chance to sign him up for the Pre-Kindergarten speech program at our local elementary school. He was approved and was therefore discharged from Alberta Health Services and placed into the Alberta Education Program. My baby boy was no longer a baby, off to school he went.

It is never easy to start something new, especially a new school. The Pre-Kindergarten program ran mornings or afternoons for three days a week, September to February. After that, a fourth day was added to get the kids used to a longer schedule and help prepare them for Kindergarten. We chose the morning class. Mrs. Coon was set to be his teacher and was she ever sweet. She had such care and passion for each child and made sure her full attention was always towards her students, current and past. When the school year started in September, I, as a mother, made sure that I was there to advocate for my son. I stuck my foot in the door to touch base with Mrs. Coon about Tyson’s speech. I made sure that she understood my concerns regarding my boy and stressed that he really did need the help. I was assured that an SLP (speech language pathologist) would be there to meet with the children every other Tuesday. Great, I thought, this seemed reasonable, until I noticed that it was a very minimal meet of approximately 10 – 15 minutes every other week with all of the speech students together as opposed to one-on-one. This meant that the SLP’s attention was divided and the children all had to fight for attention and a hope of learning something new that day. This 15-minute shared session didn’t seem like enough for me. What happened if Tyson was sick on a speech Tuesday and missed his chance completely? He would then be forced to wait another two weeks before seeing someone again.

I knew I needed to do something different. Luckily, my mom found a lady named Janis on Kijiji who offered private, out of your home speech lessons. We didn’t hesitate to hire her! However, this meant that money out of our own pocket was now being spent in order to help my child get the support he needed. I struggled with having to pay out of pocket to get extra resources when I thought the education system needed to be there to guide these kids to greatness. At the end of Tyson’s Pre-Kindergarten year, I took things into my own hands and met with the Vice-Principal, his teacher and Tyson. The only thing I took away from our meeting was “write a letter to your MLA asking for extra funding, we simply cannot provide him with an education assistant for kindergarten”. I felt defeated, frustrated, angry and sad. What was I to do?

Our summer passed us by and our ‘Welcome to Kindergarten’ package arrived in the mail in late July. Another year of school for the kid, growing up and getting older. He was off to a new adventure. Always in the back of my mind, I was scared for him. He was starting in the foundation of his life and where he would start to be shaped as a person. I never wanted him to go into a school or a grade being different than his friends and having someone notice and make fun of him. Would he not want to answer the teacher’s questions due to the chance that he might be called on and have to speak out loud? What would happen if they couldn’t understand him? Would he get upset and cry? Would he get flustered? Would he never want to answer a question in class again?

I wasn’t able to be there with him every day, so I would never know. I just knew that I needed to get the school’s attention and ensure that he was receiving some help. I was informed that they had an SLP in kindergarten that would come in and meet individually with each child that they felt required the extra help! You best believe I made sure my kid was red flagged in the system and the help was going to be given to him. My phone was glued to my ear day after day talking to Alberta Health Services speech department, as they were the ones who sent the SLP’s to the school. The ladies heard me loud and clear and understood my pain and frustration and knew they wanted to help me, help Tyson. Normally, an SLP and a child assessment in the school didn’t happen until January of that school year, but by some miracle I was able to get Tyson seen in October. Finally, someone was listening! He would get pulled from class once a week for half an hour to 45 minutes to meet with the pathologist and get that extra help. I was finally able to start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A little help was needed to go a long way. Train the brain now while they are still young and trainable, it was all we needed!

Not only was Tyson able to see a speech language pathologist at school in his kindergarten year, a marvellous program called Sound Connections had also been recommended to me. I felt as though Sound Connections would be a right fit for us. It is a ‘multi-sensory learning’ based program, which means that the brain is taught by utilizing as many senses and learning styles as possible. The instructors provide a blend of speech-language and literacy based teaching and I knew this was exactly what my boy needed. We had started this program in July in order to give him a head start before Kindergarten. Why not? What was extra work going to hurt? We went in for a couple of sessions and of course, being leery of starting something new once again, I was nervous. However, before I knew it, Tyson was asking, begging, and pleading to go to Sound Connections. These teachers were changing his life! They had such a neat, interactive way to engage him in his lessons and get his mind focused on the tasks at hand. We were paired with Ms. Sarah to start and those two had such a great bond. Ms. Sarah was a big kid at heart and had a tender, sensitive side to her which matched perfectly with my boy. She knew what to look for and just how to help him. Sarah was able to slow down lessons when she needed to and challenge Tyson when something was too easy for him. It was a lot like being at David Thompson Health Region with Wanda. Tyson loved playing games with Ms. Sarah and was even able to beat her a time or two.

Ms. Sarah was later blessed with a new baby of her own and was going to be taking time off to be a new mom. That of course meant a switch up in our schedule. What new teacher would we be getting? Would it be someone as great as Ms. Sarah? I wasn’t concerned though, since every teacher in the program knew how to rock it out with the kids and always kept things fun. We soon found out that Tyson’s new teacher would be Ms. Brenda. Tyson loved Ms. Brenda so much, I am pretty sure he would have traded me in for her as a mom if he could have. Ms. Brenda knew how to communicate with Tyson. She knew when to be silly with him and when to buckle down and get him focused. These teachers saw something in Tyson and his speech that I had been fighting for two years for someone to recognize. Why did it take this long and so many programs for someone to finally realize they could help Tyson? A lot like Sarah, Brenda knew when to push Tyson. She was able to help get Tyson’s speech at par with his age and get his reading level above and beyond the expectation for a kindergarten/grade one student. As a mom though, I had a hard time having Brenda leave us when she too was off to have a baby! Never had I thought that these ladies were giving up on their students, I just wanted them all to myself to help my child reach his success. Thankfully, Ms. Alysha was sent to the rescue in place of Brenda and my heart was able to settle down a little.

Tyson sees Ms. Alysha every Tuesday after school (grade one) and enjoys beating her in soccer and hockey while he works on his reading and spelling. Alysha is like a big sister to Tyson. They get along very well and love to play and tease each other while doing his work. Having these ladies at Sound Connections in our lives for the past two years has changed us all - myself, Tyson, and our entire family. I feel so confident going into a session with Ms. Alysha and Tyson, knowing that my son is going to learn the most he can and get taught to the best of his ability. Alysha has Tyson reading at a grade 3 reading level, a whole grade ahead of where he is in school now and she cares about his education. I feel such a relief that I have finally found somewhere and someone to trust in my son’s abilities and help him reach his goals.

Our struggles have come a long way from the two-year check up appointment until now. We have been in every position imaginable, from Alberta Health Services, Alberta Education Program, an at-home private tutor, being with an individual SLP during Kindergarten year, and now with our continuing education at Sound Connections. I don’t just see the light at the end of the tunnel, I feel as though I have been fully embraced in the light and know we are near the end of the heartache and struggle. My once two-and-a-half-year-old boy who wasn’t reaching milestones at the doctor’s office is now thriving above and beyond where I could have ever imagined him to be. Tyson, at age of six, Grade One, is bright, smart, well-educated and reading at a Grade Three reading level. I have finally broken the silence for him and together as a mother and son team, we have gotten him over and above his potential and I hope it only continues. No more being afraid.                                                                                                                                                  

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”

– Winston Churchill

Mandy is a mother of two children,  one boy and one girl and is expecting her third child due to enter this world early September.  She is a dedicated wife and family person. Mandy enjoys spending her time with her kids watching them learn new things everyday. She  is also currently enrolled in the EA Certification Program at Red Deer College and excited to graduate in spring of 2017.

Tags: advice, health, kids

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