Brendan was born a normal size, but grew very slowly. Despite being slow to crawl and walk, he was happy and healthy so his mother Sarah didn’t worry too much.
He has always been the happiest and sweetest little boy you could imagine.
Clumsy as a toddler, Brendan was constantly running into things and struggled to run or jump. He babbled earlier than his two older brothers who are both on the Autism Spectrum, however his speech failed to develop into actual speech sounds.
By the time Brendan was two, his parents realised something was wrong. Overwhelmed with the needs of his older brothers and lost in a blur of depression due to concern for her children, Sarah contacted a private speech language pathologist.
I called to ask if his condition might be Apraxia of Speech, but we did not have the money to afford an assessment and so we went on a public waiting list for speech therapy and occupational therapy. Shortly before his third birthday we approached a GP, who ordered blood tests which showed Brendan has a growth hormone deficiency. Brendan was almost three and a half by the time he finally got through the waiting list and then they only offered six sessions of therapy!
Sarah became increasingly desperate as she was forced to watch Brendan’s speech development fail to advance. Additionally, Brendan’s fine motor skills were a year behind and less than a third of his speech could be understood as it was still primarily vowel-based babble. Thankfully Brendan’s grandparents stepped in to pay for a private assessment and several months of therapy. At last Brendan’s family had a diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Like so many parents supporting a child with a hidden disability, Sarah remembers the journey to diagnosis as lonely and isolating as she fought to secure Brendan the expert therapy he desperately needed.
It often feels like you are on your own when you have a child who falls through the cracks. Brendan needed ongoing and intensive speech therapy, and unlike autism there is no government funding package for this condition. Even getting him into an Early Intervention pre-prep program offered at the local state school was a struggle, as speech and Language Disorders are often treated as ‘lesser’ disabilities.
The family decided to delay Prep entry for Brendan, however it became obvious by half-way through the year he would not be able to go to a mainstream school. For Brendan’s family it was heartbreaking to see him so desperate to make friends, but then be unable to communicate with them.
I was getting desperate at this point. We couldn’t afford to pay for speech therapy if I quit my job to homeschool Brendan, and he didn’t qualify for special school. I cannot even remember how I heard of The Glenleighden School, but on impulse I turned up at the gate one lunch time to chat with the staff. What I discovered was an amazing group of parents who immediately empathised with our situation and urged me to enrol Brendan. So I did.
Brendan was assessed by Speech & Language Development Australia’s expert team of speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapist, psychologist and educators as part of the enrolment process. For Sarah the findings were quite confronting.
I knew Brendan couldn’t speak, but only then discovered his comprehension was behind as well. His gross motor and fine motor skills were years behind schedule. Brendan was offered a place at Glenleighden, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
From those early days Brendan has gone on to thrive as a member of The Glenleighden School community.
It is difficult to put into words the overwhelming joy of seeing your child who never fit in find a place in the world. The children in his class were also walking their own challenging paths, and so accepted each other without question. The class sizes were not overwhelming and there were plenty of dedicated and expert staff supporting his development. Having a special- needs child can be very isolating, but the other parents at Glenleighden understand how exciting it is when your six-year-old finally makes a ‘T’ sound or learns to sign ‘Happy Birthday’.
While Brendan’s articulation still has a long way to go, his comprehension has caught up and he can now speak in full sentences. Sarah was warned not to expect Brendan to be able to hand-write until at least his fourth year in school. However this past Christmas saw Brendan signing his own name in Christmas cards.
He is confident, he is learning, and most importantly he is happy.