It has been less than one year since Rylee’s parents, Rachelle and Christopher, spent the majority of their time trying tirelessly to decipher the grunts and gestures she was making, hoping to figure out just what it was she wanted or didn’t want. At two years old Rylee’s communication was limited to very few words and she relied almost entirely on her parents guessing game, only to enter into a tantrum when she was not understood or they guessed wrong.
Born in Texas, Rylee’s developmental skills were on target, all except for speech. Her pediatrician kept urging Rachelle and Christopher to keep reading to her, saying she would eventually pick up on speech skills. After moving to Kansas Rylee was still not talking clearly. Their new pediatrician referred them to Heartspring for an evaluation. In March 2007 Rylee first met with speech-language pathologist Rhonda Witherspoon. “At that time, she had very limited verbal skills,” said Rhonda. “Rylee did not say many words and the ones she did say were few and far between.”
Rachelle was eager to get Rylee started in therapy. “I didn’t want her to get too far behind or discouraged enough that it would effect her self-esteem.”
Rylee began her therapy sessions at Heartspring Pediatric Services in May 2007. Initially Rhonda’s objective was to encourage her to imitate a variety of age-appropriate sounds. According to Rhonda, Rylee was reluctant at first to even try to say anything. Within a few weeks, and with a lot of positive reinforcement from her therapist and family, Rylee began to not only imitate sounds, but even some real words.
“Our goal was not to perfect her speech,” said Rhonda, “but to teach her how to produce simple to more complex sound combinations, and by doing this, teach her how to say words. Once she learned how to say words, she could learn how to make sentences, ask questions, make comments and command her world.”
Much to her parent’s amazement, Rylee has met many of her speech goals in less than a year. “The improvement she’s made is unbelievable,” said Rachelle. “The first time she told me what she wanted for breakfast I cried. We had to call her dad at work.”
Having a daughter who couldn’t communicate was frustrating and scary. “I didn’t know how you get a two year old to talk. How do you unlock their words?” said Rachelle. “It was heartbreaking to look in her eyes and see her mind working but not being able to find the words.”
A special relationship has blossomed between Rhonda and Rylee. “Rhonda makes it fun,” said Christopher. “That’s why Rylee has learned so much.”
“Rhonda’s amazing. She and Rylee have really clicked,” said Rachelle. “She gave us the best gift ever – to communicate with our child.”
The Financial Assistance Program at Heartspring has helped Rachelle and Christopher ensure that Rylee get the services she needs. “I know there are so many children that need help,” said Rachelle. “With two therapies a week, it’s hard to make ends meet. She really needed it (therapy) and I didn’t want to pull her out.” Rylee’s parents are thankful to all the donors who contribute to the fund. “It’s really needed,” said Rachelle. “Hopefully someday we’ll be able to give back.”
One way Rylee and her parents have already given back to Heartspring was by agreeing to let Rylee be photographed to promote the 2007 Lights on the Lake fundraising event. Rylee’s smiling face was featured on a large sign on campus and also in the handout that everyone received as they drove through the lighted display. “It was special to see her picture,” said Christopher. “It makes you a proud parent. Rylee was ecstatic.”
The dedication of Heartspring staff means the world to Christopher and Rachelle. “Heartspring has given us unbelievable support,” said Christopher. “From the front office and financial assistance, to the (therapists), to the front desk…they’ve given us happiness. It almost leaves you speechless.”
Recently Rylee celebrated her third birthday. This year she was able to tell her parents what she wanted and could talk to her grandparents on the phone. “My whole family is blown away,” said Rachelle. “To hear the difference and how far she’s come, it’s amazing.”
In the end, what most inspires Rylee’s parents is her success. “It makes you proud to know the before and after…she’s one of a kind,” said Christopher. “It’s not even the same girl,” said Rachelle. “She’s a new Rylee.”