Welcome to our new blog series: Now We’re Talking!
We are partnering with bloggers who have a passion for writing and sharing their experiences with communication concerns, speech delays, disorders, autism and more. Our hope is to provide Chatterboxes families and parents all around with comfort, advice, and a network that is understanding and supportive!
Our first Now We’re Talking interview is with the wonderful Laura Smith, a mom who regularly shares about her life and young daughter on her blog: SLP Mommy of Apraxia. Laura’s story is unique in that she is a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP for short) by profession, but is also a parent of a child with Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
Laura was kind enough to collaborate with us and answer some questions, so enjoy our first installment of Now We’re Talking!
Q: Tell us about you and your family.
A: My name is Laura Smith and I’ve been married for almost 12 years and have two little ones: ages seven and four. My seven-year-old has a diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Developmental Coordination Disorder (sometimes known as dyspraxia), mixed receptive and expressive language impairment, dysarthria, hypotonia, and sensory processing disorder.
We do a lot as a family together including camping and jet skiing around the lakes and reservoirs of Colorado, and skiing in the mountains during the winter season.
Q: Why did you choose to become a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)?
A: It actually kind of chose me. In college, I initially wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but quickly discovered the market in Denver was saturated. Not willing to leave my home town, I went to an advisor who asked me about some other interests of mine. I ended up being connected with the speech disorders department and took an introductory class and loved it. I decided to get my degree in Speech Communications with an emphasis in disorders, with my master plan to work in the customer relations department at Chrysler (as I was working at a Dodge Dealership at the time putting myself through college).
Through a series of serendipitous events, I completed an SLPA training program and went on to work as one in the schools. I met my mentor and my future daughter’s SLP who convinced me to apply for graduate school and complete my master’s degree in speech/language pathology.
Q: What made you want to start blogging and share your story?
A: Ever since I learned how to write, I have loved writing. I had numerous diaries and journals over the years. When my daughter Ashlynn wasn’t talking, I was caught up with being a new mom, pregnant with my second, and extremely sad I couldn’t help my daughter speak. I stopped writing completely during that time. After Ashlynn was finally diagnosed, I had a big pity party, wondering if this was some colossal joke; but then I thought that maybe I had been given this child with one of the severest speech disorders because I could help other people. I started my blog initially as a way to get back into writing since it had always been therapeutic for me. As it evolved, I realized I was helping others by sharing our story and the therapy of writing turned into a passion.
Q: How has having a child with apraxia affected your daily routines?
A: Oh my gosh, how has it not? For us though, she has global apraxia, which is just a term adopted by parents to describe that motor planning issues are a problem globally throughout the body. This greatly affects ALL activities of daily living. The time it takes to do anything, from getting dressed to eating a meal, is increased probably three-fold when you have a child with global apraxia.
Daily routines that are most affected by having a child with just CAS is the massive inconvenience of therapy. Kids with CAS need frequent and intense therapy, and this means we are in the car more than we are ever at home. Driving to and from therapy is not only time consuming, but in many cases it is expensive because therapy is usually not covered by insurance.
Q: How has your background as an SLP blended with being a mom?
A: It’s funny because you can’t turn off being an SLP. I’m sure any SLP reading right now can relate to this. We are just always on. Even when I’m not trying to, I end up analyzing all aspects of language.
It actually blended well with being a mom, but there did come a point where I had to tell myself I couldn’t be her mom AND her SLP. I can carry over all the targets, do homework, and be the best facilitator of carryover you will ever see; but at the end of the day, I need to be her mom first. Being a mom is a big enough job as it is!
Q: Who is in your support system and how do they help you?
A: I’m so glad you brought this up, because I really feel like people need support regardless of what struggle they are having in life. There is something instantaneously comforting when you meet another human being to which you only have to say “me too” and you both understand each other. It’s almost an immediate bond.
When Ashlynn was first diagnosed, I found a Facebook support group named Apraxia Kids: Every Child Deserves a Voice. It was immensely helpful to me, although I still felt very alone because I thought I must be the only SLP on the planet who had a child with CAS. Through that group and with my blog, I have now found many SLP’s nationwide and we have our own Facebook group and it is the best thing ever. I am grateful every time an SLP joins with a child who has CAS because I know they will NEVER have to feel alone. There is a crazy amount of guilt in being an SLP who has a child with a speech disorder, and not just any speech disorder, but one of the MOST severe. We have all agreed our experiences have taught us a lot about nature versus nurture. Both sides of the family have also been very supportive and loving which has been wonderful as well.
Q: How does having that strong support system help you and your family?
A: I’m better, stronger, and healthier because of all the support we have. It allows me to be a better mom and advocate for my daughter. On my down days, there are always people to carry the weight. I never feel alone, even on days I may feel overwhelmed. Actually, even my Facebook page SLP Mommy of Apraxia/Dyspraxia is a huge source of support for me. When I am feeling down, there are so many people who comment and reach back out to lift me up. Support like that is priceless.
Q: Do you have any tips/tricks that you swear by?
A: It sounds cliche, but don’t underestimate the power and effectiveness of routines, a consistent schedule, and even the use of a visual schedule.
Ashlynn had and still has anxiety around what is going to happen and wants to know her schedule and activities for the day. She’s seven now and loves keeping a calendar! It’s actually a great way to naturally practice and talk using different tenses (future, past tense) and time concept words (yesterday, tomorrow, next week), which is not only helping language skills but building those executive functioning skills as well.
Q: What advice would you give another parent in your position?
A: Reach out and find others who are walking your path. There is so much comfort when you have found people who understand you, from the inside looking out. Educate yourself as much as you can. There is nothing cliché in the phrase “knowledge is power.”
Remember this diagnosis is a marathon not a sprint. Celebrate each and every success, no matter how small.
Finally, love and embrace your child for who they really are. I think in the initial stages I had this mindset I could fix her. I have recently realized I don’t need to fix anything about her. I need to give her the skills and opportunity like I would any other child to learn, grow, and thrive; but I need to love and accept her for all of her wonderful and unique talents that make her a truly amazing individual.
Q: If you could travel back in time, what would you tell yourself when you found out that your daughter had apraxia?
A: Cry it out. It’s okay. Let it all out. There now. Pick yourself up and carry on.
Life is to be lived! Ashlynn is still the same ray of sunshine she was before someone told you she may always struggle to speak. You won’t believe it now, but you will trip across blessings; so, so, so many blessings along your journey and be the better for it. You will be filled with more compassion, empathy, and understanding than you ever thought you needed. You will know true strength and bravery through the eyes of your child and she will inspire you in ways you never thought possible.
Laura is CASANA-certified for advanced training and clinical expertise in Childhood Apraxia of Speech, has completed the PROMPT Level 1 training, and the Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol (K-SLP). She has lectured throughout the United States on Childhood Apraxia of Speech and related issues. Laura is committed to raising and spreading CAS awareness following her own daughter’s diagnosis of CAS and dyspraxia. She is the apraxia walk coordinator for Denver, and writes for various publications including the ASHA wire blog, The Mighty, and on a website she manages slpmommyofapraxia.com.
In 2016, Laura was awarded ASHA’s media award for garnering national media attention around apraxia detailing her encounter with UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, and also received ASHA’s ACE award for her continuing education, specifically in the area of childhood motor speech disorders.
Chatterboxes offers quality Speech-Language & Occupational Therapy in Boston and Lexington, MA. We also offer flexible service options for your family. Call us today at 617-969-8255 or visit us at 121 Mt Vernon St, Boston, MA 02108 and 35 Bedford Street, Unit 6, Lexington, MA for our Lexington location.