What is childhood apraxia of speech? How do you explain apraxia to adults who care for children with this special need? How do we help the child’s peers, friends, and family to understand this neurological disorder which controls the input from the brain to the oral motor muscles which provides speech? Author-illustrator-mom, Jeanne Buesser’s book, He Talks Funny: A Heartwarming Story of Everyday Life is a good place to start.
What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech?
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association web site says, “Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with childhood apraxia of speech have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. This is not because of muscle weakness or paralysis. The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words. It is important to have your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who has knowledge of childhood apraxia of speech to rule out other causes of speech problems.”
About the Book
Jeanne Buesser wrote He Talks Funny to let other children and parents know about childhood apraxia of speech because her son has it and some other issues. The story takes place at a summer camp for children. A young boy with apraxia has problems making himself understood and the other children do not play with him saying, “He talks funny”. An understanding camp counselor comforts him and phones his mother who comes to the camp. Through his mother’s explanation to the counselor the reader learns about apraxia, “ He understands everything you say and wants to answer you clearly, but there is a loose connection in the part of the brain that processes speech. ..”
Another reason Ms. Buesser wrote this book is her concern that some children aren’t diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech or only later in life; therefore, it is very difficult on the parents and child. In a letter to parents, guardians, and professionals in the first pages of her book, Jeanne advises the following
- If your child has a speech delay have a developmental pediatrician see the child.
- If your child is not yet 3 yrs. of age, the Early Intervention Services in your area can help you.
- If your child is over 5 yrs. of age your local school district can help.
On the last pages of the book, you will find lists of Normal Language Milestones – Clues of a Possible Problem. These cover the ages up to 36 months and would be very useful for parents of young children.
The simple story is only eight pages in length and has only four drawings. There is a lot more text than pictures and the topic is complicated so, it seems to me, the best way to use this book is to have an adult read it to kids who are eight to ten years old and then have a discussion after reading it.
Some children in grades four and up would be able to read the story part of the book on their own but the problem lies in all the other information for adults found in this book. I can see this book on the shelves of waiting rooms of speech language pathologists, Early Childhood Services, and other professionals who work with children with special needs. It would be good for a teacher to read to her class or a parent to read to a child but in the format it is in, it is not a school library book for independent reading.
The one page Glossary on What is Apraxia? gives definitions of apraxia, verbal-apraxia, hypotonia, oral apraxia, global apraxia, limb apraxia, and dyspraxia. .. The glossary is good for adults but too difficult for young readers and the words in the glossary, except for apraxia, are not used in the book.
I think the people involved with this book were trying to make it useful to too many groups of different people. The author should have followed the saying, “Don’t try to please everyone. If you do, you will please no-one.” She should have focused, narrowed-down and done less. Is it a child’s picture book? No, not really. Is it a parenting book? No, not all parts of it. Did Jeanne Buesser, a busy mom, work hard to write it and get it published to help other kids and families? Most likely she did. Folks who helped her proofread the text when it was finished to make sure that it had no grammar or spelling mistakes missed their mark also.
If a second edition is made, I think it should include just the story and a glossary for children. Then the story should be spread out on more pages with a supporting illustration on each page. This would make it a real children’s picture book to be shared with a group of young listeners or read independently by older children.
Jeanne Buesser is President of the non-profit grassroots organization, Apraxia Network of Bergen County (New Jersey) and is a parent of two special needs children. She also has a few articles published in the Exceptional Parent Magazine “Dealing with a Parent’s Worst Nightmare” Feb 2002 Issue. Parent Guide Magazine, “The Quiet Child”, August 2008 Issue. The Parentpaper.com, “Going from Darkness to Light” Feb 2008 issue, and supplemental insert, Special Child, “Climbing the Mountain”, August 2008. Ms. Buesser has also been interviewed on alltalkradio.com, and by wfme.com, radio and TV. She also has a public service announcement on youtube.com on apraxia, and has spoken at conferences, including Learning Disability Association of New Jersey.
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