Indiana Jones is his hero, something that until recently five-year-old Cooper would have never been able to tell you. Just as Indiana Jones faced multiple challenges during his quests to find treasure, Cooper has had to overcome obstacles as he searched for his treasure…his voice.
At an early age Cooper’s parents, Natalie and Sean, knew that something wasn’t quite right. “At one, there wasn’t a lot of babbling and at a year and a half, I was really starting to get a little worried (because he wasn’t talking),” said Natalie. Cooper’s big brother Skyler was chatting quite a bit when he was that age. “You don’t ever want to compare your children, but when Skyler was two I could understand everything he was saying.”
After consulting their pediatrician, Natalie and Sean waited until Cooper’s second birthday to see if his communication increased. It didn’t. At two, Cooper started speech therapy at Heartspring Pediatric Services with speech-language pathologist Rhonda Witherspoon.
“I was scared,” said Natalie. “As a mom I knew he needed something, so we were somewhat prepared when the doctor told us to come to Heartspring. But it was scary. You start thinking what else could be wrong. It was overwhelming. We just decided to take one step at a time.”
When Cooper first began working with Rhonda in 2005, he demonstrated significant language deficits and was not talking much at all. He relied mostly on pointing and hand gestures to tell his family what he wanted. Rhonda initially focused on teaching Cooper how to imitate sounds and sound combinations, helping him to form words. After working on various sounds, some much harder than others, Cooper quickly learned how to put two and three sounds together to form several words. “Once Cooper could put sounds together, he was ready to make simple phrases such as, ‘I go’ or ‘want juice’ and ‘no milk,’” said Rhonda.
From simple phrases, Cooper graduated into verbalizing longer sentences, asking questions and commenting on events around him. In three years, Cooper’s progress is significant. “He’s processing so much,” said Natalie. “Seeing his progress has lessened my fear. Even in the last year, I’ve seen a huge difference.”
In addition to being Cooper’s therapist, Rhonda is also Natalie’s personal cheerleader. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without Rhonda,” said Natalie. “I feel like she’s really helped us. She’s not only helped Cooper, she’s helped me and I think that is where, with other programs you don’t see the teachers or therapists, but here they tell you everything. You sit with them, you sit in the room and you know what’s going on. I feel blessed that we have Heartspring.”
Cooper doesn’t look at therapy as work. To him, coming to Heartspring means getting to play games with his friend Rhonda. “He never once has said I don’t want to go,” said Natalie. “He loves coming here.”
Now five, Cooper is working on fine-tuning his communication. “During therapy, we are working on improving his ability to use more specific language to talk about the world around him, to ask and answer questions, and to engage in conversations with friends and family,” said Rhonda. “He is also working to improve his speech skills so that others are able to better understand him.”
With his communication skills in tact, Cooper’s personality is starting to blossom. “He loves to be a jokester,” said Natalie. “He’s got an ornery side and I love seeing that personality come out. He loves that he thinks he’s funny. As his mom, I love seeing everything come together.”
Having a place like Heartspring available for Cooper means a lot to Natalie. “Everyone is qualified and is looking out for Cooper’s best interests,” she said. “I know they see a lot of kids with other disabilities, so I’ve got a resource where people are qualified in so many different areas. It’s a good network – you’re on a team. You hear about Heartspring and how they help kids, but until you come and experience it – it’s such a great place.”
Watching Cooper interact with others at school and during his T-Ball games is rewarding for Natalie. Cooper is also very aware of how much his vocabulary has increased. “I have heard him say, ‘I can say that word now mom’,” said Natalie. “What a great feeling to know that he understands how far he’s come and that he’s getting better every day.”
Now, when Natalie sits in on Cooper’s therapy sessions, she and Rhonda have to wait to get started until he’s done talking. Meeting with Rhonda twice a week, he’s preparing to go to kindergarten next year, where Rhonda and his mom expect he’ll be on target with his classmates.
With Cooper, there is no Hollywood magic helping to bring his voice to the world. He has achieved success thanks to his dedicated family and support from Heartspring. He gets five stars for his effort.