How My Son Fell Through The Cracks


My son has autism. Palmer was labeled “non-verbal” at an early age and received a late-diagnosis of apraxia, which is a motor speech disorder. He had trouble pronouncing words.


Teaching My Son to Say “Can I have…” and “Please”

Over the years of my son’s education and therapies, I became frustrated with the dependence on Alternative Augmentative Communication Systems (AAC) for his communication needs. AAC devices provide a means to communicate for individuals with trouble speaking.

Palmer was being taught to press a button on a computer device that would generate a voice saying “I want…” and then he would press a button for whatever he wanted.

I was frustrated with this because he could already approximate “I want…” without using a device. Most often, he was not being requested to articulate his wish at the same time, which is the optimal way to help kids with autism learn to speak.

Hard pressed by budget and time constraints, School districts lack the resources to give this type of attention to “non-verbal” kids.

“Non-verbal” Often a Misnomer

In 2013 researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders and John Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a study involving 535 children, ages 8 to 17, with autism and severe speech delays and found that nearly half became fluent speakers.

Not so amazing to me since I knew Palmer had the ability to speak and I never gave up on him.

Early Diagnoses of Autism and Apraxia Can Improve with Early Intervention

Another more recent study in 2015 from the Penn State College of Medicine, Researchers looked at a group of 30 kids ages 15 months to 5 years who were referred for evaluations due to concerns about speech, language or autism. Of the children initially diagnosed with autism, nearly 2 out of 3 also had apraxia, the study found. Meanwhile, among those first flagged with apraxia, 36.8 percent were also found to have autism.

The findings are significant, researchers said, because symptoms of autism and apraxia can both be improved with early intervention, but the techniques used to address the conditions are different, making accurate diagnosis critical.

In other words, there has been a severe lack of screening of apraxia for this population with autism. Again, due to budget constraints of school districts, these children are falling through the cracks and miss valuable time when they are very young to address their speech impairments. This is why AAC is the preferred solution, because it is much less expensive than treatment for apraxia, which IS treatable.

How tragic.

The other reason I became frustrated with hearing “I want…” is it’s rude. So I taught my son to say, “Can I have…” and “Please…” And he does, all the time. He uses his voice and is polite while using it. His words aren’t super clear, and it’s critical to practice every day, all the time.

My goal is to make Palmer understood by everybody, not just his caregivers. And I'm determined to reach that goal.

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