“Happy. Loving. Determined.” These are the three words Mandy and Eric Wright use to describe their oldest daughter Eloise. Those traits have served Eloise well as she works to overcome developmental delays.
Eloise’s story began four and half years ago in Boston, Massachusetts when she was born with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, resulting in cerebral palsy. “They told us in Boston she would have delays in speech, but we were first-time parents. We didn’t know what that meant,” said Mandy. “She received early intervention through the state, but we are originally from Arkansas and wanted to move back.”
When Mandy and Eric moved back to Arkansas in 2016, they continued with outpatient therapy along with typical childcare services for Eloise. However, when Eloise was around one and a half years old, their therapist suggested a comprehensive approach to intervention might be beneficial and told them about ACCESS®.
Mandy began research and toured numerous facilities but the team approach at ACCESS really stood out to her. “After visiting ACCESS, I realized that Eloise needed to be somewhere where people understood her delays, and I did not have to explain why she wasn’t walking yet like her typical peers – somewhere that understood it was just going to take her a little longer to meet those milestones. We went through the admissions process with ACCESS, and Eloise was able to start in Ms. Stephanie’s toddler class just before she turned two-years-old.”
After visiting ACCESS, I realized that Eloise needed to be somewhere where people understood her delays, and I did not have to explain why she wasn’t walking yet like her typical peers – somewhere that understood it was just going to take her a little longer to meet those milestones.
Eloise was only in the toddler classroom a couple of months before transitioning to the two-year-old classroom with Ms. Suzanne, tenured special education teacher and now Assistant Director of the ACCESS Early Childhood program. “When Eloise first came to Early Childhood, she was shy and had no words, only very basic ways to communicate,” Suzanne remembers. “She mainly got her point across with her actions – and crying. She did not participate in activities without help and did not initiate interactions with peers, or even very many adults.”
“I had the privilege of being her teacher partway through that first year. As Eloise became immersed in a language-rich, literacy-based curriculum, she blossomed!” Suzanne explained. “It became evident that she had lots to say and we began hearing some sounds and then some spontaneous words. Eloise understood every bit of what we were teaching, and she began to show us that comprehension through active participation in daily activities.”
During her two-year-old year at ACCESS, Eloise also began working with occupational therapist Kelli Miller and speech-language pathologist Kasie Birdwell. “When Eloise first came to ACCESS, it took a few weeks of getting to know her before
it became apparent to me that her speech wasn’t just delayed, but that I was seeing signs of apraxia,” explained Kasie Birdwell, speech-language pathologist specializing in early childhood intervention. “Her apraxia was different in that it wasn’t Childhood Apraxia of Speech, but apraxia caused by a brain injury she experienced at birth.”
“Eloise was an incredibly bright and social little girl. She loved giving everyone hugs and high fives as we walked down the hallway to therapy,” said Kelli. “However, she struggled with fine motor tasks like getting dressed by herself, using a fork and spoon, and putting together puzzles. It was really frustrating for Eloise to need help with a task, but not be able to ask for it.”
“We began using picture symbols during our occupational therapy sessions to help Eloise communicate her wants and needs. At that point, we saw a huge change in Eloise’s demeanor. She began requesting help when she needed it, asking for her favorite play activities, and even verbalizing more, along with the picture symbols,” recalled Kelli. “It became apparent that Eloise was very smart and just needed a way for her voice to be heard.”
“Picture symbols were helpful, but the signs and picture symbols we could give Eloise weren’t keeping up with everything she wanted to tell us,” said Kasie. “She was ready to tell us more! I started the process of acquiring a communication device for her.” The device arrived just before the end of the summer in 2018 when Eloise turned three.
According to Mandy and Eric, one of the most defining moments of Eloise’s journey at ACCESS was when she received her LAMP (Language Acquisition through Motor Planning) communication device, a sort of iPad-like device that allows individuals to use pictures and symbols along with motor planning to create words and phrases that can be used in communicating with others. “When we got the device, I was not one-hundred percent sure how this was going to help her,” said Mandy. “But we worked with Sally, her new speech-language pathologist at the time to try to understand it. I went to a training per Sally’s suggestion, and she kept working with Eloise on how to use the device.”
“We are over a year out from Eloise receiving her communication device. Just as she turned four years old, she started this school year in Pre-K 4, and her verbal communication has taken off. She is saying so much more, which they told us would happen,” explained Mandy. “Everything happens in slow motion with her. And then as soon as it happens, I’m just taken back. She is saying all sorts of things, now. The other day, we were listening to the ‘We Are the Dinosaurs’ song. I asked Eloise, ‘what do you think the dinosaurs eat?’ And she yelled out ‘grass!’ She knew the answer and told us. And she LOVES to sing!”
In the Pre-K 4 classroom, “Eloise is doing beautifully,” says her teacher Lorie Baker. She participates in circle time activities every morning using her device and is exhibiting more verbal speech. “It is great watching her during movement and music. She does all of the movements and tries to sing every word! Eloise’s receptive language skills are right up there with her typical peers in class. She follows directions just like the others and understands the literary concepts in our unique curriculum. Although her ability to communicate verbally is more limited than her peers, her out- going personality is definitely not!”
Eloise also continues to work on language skills with her speech therapist, independence skills with her occupational therapist, and her physical therapist helps her to gain the skills and strength she needs to participate in everyday activities at home and in her community. She goes to gymnastics and dance class, and she is signed up to try tee ball soon. “She just does what the other kids do to the best of her ability,” shares Mandy. “If we need to incorporate some skills into therapy to help her better participate, I just text Carly (her physical therapist at ACCESS), and we work on it.”
Now, Eloise gets to enjoy having little sister Genevieve at ACCESS with her as well. “The reason we like Genevieve to go
to school here is because she sees kids that are not typically-developing, and she doesn’t know there is a difference,” explained Mandy. “Genevieve never asked why her sister isn’t able to do things that she can do. I don’t think she knows there’s a difference. To her, Eloise is just her sister.”
“As a teacher, it is always amazing and heart-warming to see how the combination of high-quality instruction, a team approach to therapy services, intensity, and peer interactions truly does change the life of a child. And in turn, the life and trajectory of an entire family,” says Suzanne.
They give me reassurance. They just know what she needs, and they make sure she gets it. I don’t have to worry anymore. I know she’s going to be okay.
“When I think about what ACCESS has given our family, I can’t help but think about the cohesion we see with everyone who supports Eloise. The teachers, the therapists, her whole team, they just get her,” says Mandy. “I don’t have to explain anything. Sometimes, I feel a little overwhelmed when I think about whether Eloise is going to meet typical milestones. And I never get that kind of sense from the team at ACCESS. They give me reassurance. They just know what she needs, and they make sure she gets it. I don’t have to worry anymore. I know she’s going to be okay.”
ACCESS offers evaluations, therapy, education and vocational training for individuals with special needs ages 6 weeks through adulthood. To learn more about our programs, contact an Admissions Specialist at (501) 217-8600.