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Elsmere Joins Mother in Fight to Raise Awareness for Child's Apraxia

The City of Elsmere dedicated May 14 as Apraxia Awareness Day, in honor of a 3-year old resident.

Apraxia is diagnosed as difficulty with speech, usually after an injury to the brain. Childhood Apraxia of Speech, however, is uncommon and causes children to experience difficulties planning the movements necessary for intelligible speech.

There is often no known cause.

Dorothy Bechtold, 3, was diagnosed early with that form. Her mother, Dawn Bechtold, wanted to know why her child was not speaking as many words as she thought the child should have been at her age. As an employee at a Head Start program, Dawn was able to identify that something was not right; Dorothy was dealing with more than the early childhood challenges related to speech.

A trip was made to a pediatrician and then First Steps, a statewide agency that provides early intervention specialists, conducted a survey and exam that revealed that young Dorothy was only mildly behind in speech. Dawn was advised to wait longer to see how the child developed.

But the mother knew that the earlier a speech problem can be targeted, the better the chance is that the child can overcome it.

She continued to push for a proper diagnosis for Dorothy, returning to the pediatrician, and then heading to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and ultimately receiving a formal evaluation.

A speech therapist with childhood apraxia experience was brought in. Dorothy was diagnosed with the apraxia in April of last year.

"Originally the pediatrician thought that because she had significant ear infections, maybe Dorothy couldn't hear well, and that was why her speech was different," Dawn said. "But we started her in preschool at Lloyd Early Learning Center, and she made a lot of friends. Listening to other children, I thought it was clear she needed some help."

Dawn said that before preschool, only family members had heard Dorothy's speech, so she was nervous about others, inlcuding children, not fully understanding her.

She knows Dorothy is very bright and understands things well for her age.

"We have been blessed with our teachers," Dawn said. "One teacher, Adrien Watson, learned sign language so that she can communicate with Dorothy, and help her not to feel isolated. I can't say enough good things about her teachers." Watson, Dawn said, used sign language to help Dorothy not to feel isolated and to supplement her speech, and also taught sign language to the rest of the class.

Dorothy's other teacher is Lauren Weaver. Her speech therapist at First Steps is Sarah Haggard, who now works with the child independtly of the statewide program, and her therapist at the school is Terry Moffitt. 

Dawn hopes that the city proclamation will help raise awareness about apraxia. Cincinnati will host an awareness walk on September 16 at Sawyer Point, in which people can join Dorothy's Little Mermaids team. A fundraiser is also planned at City Barbecue.

Since most people have never heard of apraxia, Dawn's mission is to make people aware that, though it is not common, it does exist, and if it happens to a child, there are speech therapists out there that specialize in the disorder and that can help children learn to speak intelligibly. Since there is not enough research, it is difficult to see long-term recovery rates, but there is enough research to see how to treat the disorder once it is diagnosed.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Top photo: Elsmere Mayor Marty Lenhof presents the proclamation to Dorothy (RCN)

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