“Jonah has made significant progress in the time I have been seeing him,” Alison says of the two and a half years they’ve been meeting. “He is understood by both those who know him and those who don’t about 80 percent of the time.”

Speaking his mind

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Jonah Wood, a 6-year-old from Virginia Beach, is a sweet helper, passing laundry from the washer to the dryer to lighten the load for his mom, Jennifer. He's quick to smile and loves playing with blocks and toy cars, but in the past, he often felt frustrated.

"He would try to tell us something," says Jennifer. "If we couldn't understand, he would give up and say 'never mind.'"

Thanks to speech therapist Alison Barclift, MSEd, CCC-SLP, and other speech and occupational therapists at Sentara Therapy Center Pediatrics Newtown, Jonah has learned to keep trying.

"His progress has been remarkable, especially in the last year," Jennifer shares.

Jonah has apraxia, a motor planning disorder that makes it difficult for him to match what he says with what he wants to say. Jennifer, who has five children, started to suspect Jonah faced a challenge around his first birthday when he didn't babble like she remembered his older siblings doing. He received a diagnosis when he was two.

Alison explains Jonah's condition as one more complex than producing sounds incorrectly:

"To speak, we have to get what we want to say from our brain to our mouths and out of our mouths. Part of the message we send to our mouth includes the motor plan for how our muscles should be moving to create different sounds. Jonah knows what he wants to say, but has struggled with his brain sending the right messages to the muscles involved in speech."

In children with apraxia, speech therapists work not only on specific sounds but also on saying words and sentences more clearly. Alison notes that she teaches these children to plan the movements needed for the sounds and when to use those movements to produce clear speech.

"Jonah has made significant progress in the time I have been seeing him," Alison says of the two and a half years they've been meeting. "He is understood by both those who know him and those who don't about 80 percent of the time."

Jonah visits Sentara Therapy Center Pediatrics Newtown four times a week, working with speech and occupational therapists Monday through Thursday.

To Jennifer, most of his interactions with the therapists appear to be centered on play. She says Jonah, always excited to attend his therapy sessions, thinks the same – but knows it's also a time to focus and stay on task.

"He loves his therapy so much," Jennifer says, "and he's having fun while he's learning. Everyone at Sentara is very sweet and caring. They share information, and if I have questions they can't answer right away, they find the answers for me."

Alison notes that it's important to seek out therapists who are the right fit for both a child and his or her family.

"Good rapport can be a huge motivator in therapy progress," she explains. "I would also say that finding a therapist that specializes in your child's needs or who is enthusiastic about researching and learning more to best help your child's specific needs would also be crucial. Another thing to look for is a therapist who relates to a child where he is and utilizes functional assessment and ongoing diagnostic therapy."

Jennifer is excited with Jonah's progress, both because she can talk with him more and because she can see her son coping better with his condition.

"Like I said, he used to give up, or he'd have meltdowns," she shares. "Now, he'll often try again to communicate, and that's been huge."

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