An interview with Grace’s mother, Elizabeth
No one would have guessed that 3-year-old Grace Glasbrenner would recently be described as “the loudmouth of the group” when she joined ACCESS Preschool in January.
The term is used lovingly, and with excitement, because Grace began this year without speaking. Grace has apraxia, a neurologically based speech disorder characterized by the incapacity to program the positioning of speech muscles for speaking, making sounds and creating the breath support needed for the intentional production of language-based sounds.
“Not hearing your child tell you she loves you or ‘Good night’ – it’s hard,” said Elizabeth Glasbrenner, Grace’s mother.
Grace was born Dec. 12, 2005, almost a month and a half before her Jan. 29 due date.
“I didn’t know I was in labor at the time,” Elizabeth recalled.
After an otherwise typical pregnancy, a premature birth was “scary,” Elizabeth noted, but, despite an almost two-week stay in the NICU at St. Vincent Doctors Hospital in Little Rock, Grace seemed to be hitting all of her developmental milestones and was sent home just in time to leave cookies out for Santa.
Later, when Elizabeth noticed Grace wasn’t crawling at 12 months, the family pediatrician was consulted and recommended physical therapy. Grace was enrolled at a therapy clinic in town and began crawling, and, by 18 months old, walking.
Still, she wasn’t speaking.
“We chalked it up to her being born early,” said Elizabeth, adding that she and her husband, Jeff, thought Grace would improve with time.
At Grace’s regular age 2 checkup, her pediatrician recommended speech therapy.
Eight months later, without significant progress (Grace spoke only three to four words after attending three one-hour therapy sessions a week), Elizabeth called a friend at a local hospital who helped her schedule an evaluation. Once Grace was assessed, she was given her current diagnosis of apraxia, and she was enrolled in a new speech therapy program.
Around this time, Elizabeth and Jeff had begun teaching their daughter sign language, using a book to teach her 25 to 30 words.
It “helped tremendously,” Elizabeth said. Grace could now communicate with her parents but was limited to the signs she understood.
At the same time, Elizabeth “didn’t get the feeling that Grace was going to progress” in her new therapy program. Described as a “happy child,” Grace would “throw a fit” when it came time to go to therapy.
“At that point, I was pretty frustrated,” Elizabeth said. “I didn’t have anything to compare it to. There’s so much information on the Internet, and yet, so little.”
A family friend, ACCESS Director of Development Beth Johnson, stepped forward and suggested a meeting with Cindy Young, ACCESS chief operations officer and co-founder.
“Cindy talked with us for an hour. She listened to us, and then she described apraxia and Grace’s everyday behaviors back to us. She was dead-on,” Elizabeth said. “It was the first time I sat in a room and felt like somebody got it.”
The Glasbrenners were then invited to observe the ACCESS 2-year-old classroom taught by Suzanne Carter.
“I came out of the classroom, and I bawled,” Elizabeth remembered. “I thought, ‘This is what she needs. It made sense.’”
Elizabeth “sped through” the paperwork process and enrolled Grace in the ACCESS speech, physical and occupational therapy and preschool programs in January.
Within two weeks, we were seeing improvements,” Elizabeth said. “Given all the therapists we had been through without progress, it was remarkable to me. I wish we had been here earlier, but hindsight is 20/20.
Not only was Grace’s communication improving, her feeding habits, which the Glasbrenners hadn’t associated with her disorder, improved.
“The part I missed in all that is that speech is the basis for lots of development. I didn’t realize that,” said Elizabeth. “It was like a big puzzle came together, all at once, when we came to ACCESS.”
Now, Grace is thriving and is described by her initial teacher, Suzanne, as “one of the most social kids in her classroom.”
“She’s made so much progress in such little time here,” said Elizabeth. “Every time I hear her say, ‘Mommy, I love you,’ or anything like that, I just melt. It was such a long time coming. All the staff embraced Grace like she was their own child. She loves it here and tells me, ‘I get to go to school tomorrow!’”
As for the instruction Grace receives through speech, physical and occupational therapy,” Elizabeth called it “brilliant. It never occurred to me to put pictures in my house to help her communicate with me. The method ACCESS uses absolutely works.”
Elizabeth marveled at the tools she was given as a parent: “Not just the physical materials but the knowledge.” She especially enjoys the daily notes about Grace’s sleeping and eating behaviors and activities, which help her foster more communication with her daughter.
Grace’s teachers make every student participate. Grace can get lost in a crowd because she doesn’t talk as much, but at ACCESS, they make her participate.
Elizabeth said, noting a recent exercise where each student read the same sentence from a story.
Asked what she would share with other parents about the ACCESS difference, Elizabeth faltered to choose specific words but then decided that “the environment is different, in a good way – set up for specialized problems. The methods are so good; I’ve got Gavin on a waiting list,” she said, referring to her 2-year-old son without a developmental delay.
The ACCESS teaching methods are “things you never think about,” in Elizabeth’s words. “As a parent, you think, ‘I need to be teaching my child the alphabet.’ Here, they said, ‘She’ll learn the alphabet, but let’s first focus on sounds.’ That makes sense.”
Asked why she thought it took some time to find ACCESS and enroll Grace in the program, Elizabeth responded: “I needed a person I could talk to. I needed the big picture. I had no idea of the caliber of services and programs in Central Arkansas and had started to look at other cities for possible solutions.”
The ACCESS Point of View
“We changed that family’s life,” Suzanne asserted. Grace’s rapid progress was “total affirmation for the team here. The methodology – that’s what we do here, we do it well, and it works. And, the family put in the work at home; they are so invested, and they wanted so much more for Grace.”
“I recently visited with Jeff and observed what a change Grace’s newfound voice must be for their lives,” said Suzanne. “Jeff travels a lot and told me that his previous conversations with Grace were one-sided. ‘Now, she talks my ear off,’ he said, ‘Grace has even said, ‘Daddy, come home!’’”
The ACCESS team is glad the Glasbrenners found our organization. Grace is progressing every day and is poised to possibly transition to a school for typical children in a couple of years.