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Son's 'I love you' makes Mother's Day special

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Lucas Pfeister, 5, who was  diagnoised with 'childhood apraxia of speech' gets  a good start to his swing  from his mom, Niki George, in the backyard of their home in Ford City, Thursday May 9, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Leader Times
Lucas Pfeister, 5, who was diagnoised with 'childhood apraxia of speech' gets a good start to his swing from his mom, Niki George, in the backyard of their home in Ford City, Thursday May 9, 2013.
Lucas Pfeister, 5,  jumps on his trampoline in the backyard of his home in Ford City, Thursday May 9, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Leader Times
Lucas Pfeister, 5, jumps on his trampoline in the backyard of his home in Ford City, Thursday May 9, 2013.

Nicole George of Ford City received her greatest Mother's Day gift months ago, and it had nothing to do with flowers, candy or greeting cards.

It was an unforgettable message that no fancy font or rhyming verse could capture.

It was hearing her 5-year-old son, Lucas Pfeister, say “I love you,” for the first time in his life.

“He finally said, ‘I love you,'” George says. “It may have taken over four years, but he said it.”

During those four years, George has been the voice for Lucas, sometimes literally and figuratively, as she has been the champion for a son with a severe speech disorder.

Officially diagnosed in 2012 with “childhood apraxia of speech, “Lucas' speech delay was noted as an infant. His mother says, “He never cooed and really wasn't making sounds.”

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a child with apraxia of speech “knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words.”

”Apraxia affects the part of the brain that is responsible for motor programming of speech,” says Jackie Dinga, speech–language pathologist at ACMH Hospital.

“Oral motor coordination, the ability to form the sounds needed to produce words, is impaired.”

Speech apraxia can be acquired, as in cases of people with stroke or other head traumas, or, it may be considered developmental, as in Lucas' case.

“We see many children with severe speech articulation disorders,” says Dinga,”but many are not true apraxia.”

When it is diagnosed, developmental apraxia, in children can be remediated with intensive speech therapy.

“We don't know what reason there was for this, “ George says. “My family, friends and I had never known anyone with this condition.”

George then made it her business to become familiar with this malady.

“You can not be afraid to be an interpreter and advocate for your child,” she emphasizes.

The family sought help through their pediatrician and Lucas began speech therapy when he was 2 years old.

Progress was made and Lucas was then placed in a preschool class for 3-year-olds, where he could benefit from the group learning situation, yet still receive individualized speech therapy.

“By the age of 4, Lucas was speaking about five to 10 words, but no sentences,” Nicole says. “Lucas has always liked to interact with the other kids. He'd participate, but he wouldn't say anything.”

A trip to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh in 2012 re-affirmed Lucas' need for treatment and also officially named it as childhood apraxia of speech.

In the year since, Lucas has had speech therapy three times per week and although a delay in speech still exists, he has made appreciable gains.

“At this point, he still struggles with his name,” George says, “But, he can speak in short sentences and has more confidence.”

Considered to have the expressive language equivalent of a 2 12-year-old, George says, “They're pleased with his progress. He's still far away, but he's more willing to join groups now.”

Groups for parents and families also can help. George recommends to others experiencing similar issues, to learn and share.

She has met parents of children with childhood apraxia of speech through social media groups, but is unaware of any local families affected by this.

The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America has been a source of information and support for George.

She has participated in a sponsored walk to benefit this organization and encourages others to join her this Sept. 22 in Pittsburgh for the annual event.

As for Lucas, he continues to enjoy school and, like most other 5-year-olds in preschool, probably has created some sort of Mother's Day greeting, which will, no doubt, delight his mother.

But, if for some reason, a written expression of love does not materialize, his mom will have no difficulty listening to him say those three words that make every day Mother's Day.

Diane Orris Acerni is a correspondent for the Leader Times.

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