As Mother’s Day approaches, Megan Akister shares her son Ryder’s journey with the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR)—and how she and her son became a team, working together to maintain Ryder’s now-clear speech so he can live his best life.
Megan, can you provide some details about Ryder’s speech journey? When did you start noticing challenges with his communication?
We noticed Ryder was having trouble with his speech when he was around two years old. He wouldn't say a whole word, only the first part. Sometimes, he couldn't say certain sounds or words at all. We had him assessed when he was almost three years old, and then he participated in the Play and Learn at School (PALS) program in Sherwood Park for two years during preschool.
In his second year of preschool, we noticed he started to stutter. We were told that stuttering is sometimes normal for kids with delayed speech, so we waited for a bit, to see what would happen. But his stutter got more frequent and you could tell he was getting upset and frustrated, so we decided to get him assessed at ISTAR. He saw ISTAR speech-language pathologist Shea Thompson for his stutter, and then after that treatment we saw Heidi Williston for his speech and sounds therapy. Now, at almost seven years old, Ryder is still going for therapy every two weeks—now, virtually over Zoom, given the current climate.
How did Ryder's speech challenges affect his everyday life?
Ryder was aware of his stutter, so he would shut down and be quiet most of the time—especially if he was meeting someone new for the first time. His speech issues definitely made him less confident, frustrated and angry when someone didn't understand him. It was so hard to see that happen to him. Our hearts broke when he would get upset.
That sounds like a really hard time! How is Ryder’s speech now that he has been working with speech-language pathologists at ISTAR?
Ryder's speech is amazing now. He has worked so hard for the past few years to get to where he is today! He has so much more confidence when speaking and he isn't scared to try out new words or sounds. Hearing him speak, knowing how far he has come and everything he went through, makes us so happy and proud. Going to ISTAR has changed all of our lives!
So, I guess you could say you’re quite happy with the improvement Ryder has made!
Yes, we’re so happy! We knew that starting treatment at ISTAR was the best and right decision for Ryder.
That’s really great to hear! Ryder, how are you feeling now that you are able to use clear speech?
Does mom play a big part in helping you maintain your clear speech?
Yes! She takes me to ISTAR, practices words and sounds with me, reminds me to talk smoother and slower, and reminds me to say all my sounds.
She sounds like a pretty great mom! Do you enjoy practicing your speech with her? What sorts of activities do the two of you do together?
Yes, we always practice together! We play games, practice lots with words and sounds, and she makes charts for me and I get prizes when I do a good job :)
[Our speech-language pathologist] Heidi gives us things to work on every time we meet and we see what goals we are working on with Ryder. We also have little charts and notes around the house to remind Ryder to speak slower, say all his sounds and be clear with his words. They seem to help and give him a little reminder if he forgets. I will also correct him or help him pronounce a word if he is having trouble by breaking down the sounds and saying them slow, and then saying them all together. Sometimes if Ryder has a few bumps in his speech, we will correct it and give him praise for smooth speech.
Megan, now that you’ve seen speech improvements, would you recommend others visit ISTAR if they’re having issues with their communication?
100%! ISTAR has been a life-changer for Ryder and our whole family. We are so happy we took that step and got Ryder the help he needed when we did. We know that without ISTAR, Ryder's speech would not be where it is today!