Early Intervention Brings Boy’s Speech Up to Speed


Nic Ryan

We all know small problems can often turn into big problems if they aren’t dealt with early. When it’s something minor like a leaky faucet or a messy closet, it doesn’t matter so much. But when it’s something as major as a delay in speech and language skills, working on the problem as soon as possible can make all the difference.

That was the case for Nic Ryan, a three-year-old from Ankeny, who likes music, fire trucks and being his big brother’s shadow. Nic benefited from receiving speech-language services and is now a typical jabber box like other kids his age.

When Nic visited his pediatrician for his two-year-old check-up, his parents, Anne and Dan Ryan, expressed a mild concern that Nic wasn’t saying many words. Because of their concern, their doctor referred them to Heartland’s Early ACCESS services (a statewide collaborative program that serves children from birth to age 3).

Nic first had a hearing exam to determine if a problem with his hearing was contributing to his limited use of words. His hearing turned out to be perfectly normal, so the next step was an evaluation by Gayle Ver Helst, a Heartland AEA speech-language pathologist, who concluded that Nic was in fact deficient in the number of words he said and would benefit from speech-language services.

When Gayle began working with Nic, his parents reported that he was using less than 10 words. Gayle first focused her instruction on increasing Nic’s single word vocabulary and then on his use of word combinations. Gayle says that when new skills were introduced, Nic would be hesitant at first and would need a little time and encouragement before he made progress.

“Gayle was great,” Anne said about Gayle’s ability to work with Nic. “She knew just what buttons to push and when. There were times when he was stubborn and didn’t want to do it, and she made him meet her halfway. She really got to know him and understand why he was or wasn’t talking.”

“Nic benefited from a variety of strategies to assist him in increasing vocabulary and word combinations,” Gayle said. “After a few instructional sessions on each new skill, his performance would take off. Nic had support from family and his care providers who did an excellent job asking questions, using strategies that were modeled and practicing newly targeted skills.”

Through eight months of instruction, Nic made important strides in his language skills that likely wouldn’t have occurred without the early intervention services he received. “Nic is speaking as well as we could hope,” Dan said. “His reluctance to speak is gone. He’s talking, he’s singing and a lot of the non-verbal communication has fallen off now that he’s figured out he can use words to get what he wants or needs.”

Nic’s experience is a great example of how Early ACCESS services can bring kids up to speed in their skills. Gayle says that when Nic began receiving services (a few months after his second birthday), his expressive language skills were comparable to a child of about 18 months. Nic was able to catch up with his peers and meet developmental milestones by his third birthday thanks to Gayle’s expertise.

“It is exciting and rewarding to work with parents and children to help them make gains as quickly as they are able through Early ACCESS,” Gayle said. “I find it rewarding to partner with families and children to help them achieve their communication potential.”

“Knowing what we know now, there’s no reason for anyone not to seek out services,” Anne said. “We’re fortunate to have had a pediatrician who encouraged us to pursue this and pointed us in the direction of AEA or Nic might have gone a few more months saying relatively few words. AEA gave us a chance to correct it early. As we think ahead to enrolling Nic in three-year-old preschool this fall, it’s tough to imagine him being ready to communicate with a class full of kids and teachers without the help he got from AEA.”

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