Teen with Speech Disorder Discovers Acting - Diverse Health

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Teen with Speech Disorder Discovers Acting


by Shelby Reynolds, Associated Press

NAPLES, Fla. — Shakespeare’s lead female character in “Much Ado About Nothing” is talkative, witty and probably too sarcastic for her own good.

“A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours,” Beatrice says.

Memorizing and reciting the lines from the 16th century comedic play is a feat in itself.
“Scratching could not make it worse an ’twere such a face as yours were.”

But for 16-year-old Jocelyn Lyon of Naples, who is rehearsing the role of Beatrice for her high school play, the task has an added difficulty.

Jocelyn is an ordinary teenager— she wears combat boots and Converse, likes haunted houses, steampunk and sketching characters, and says “yo” casually in conversation.

But when she speaks, Jocelyn sometimes has difficulties keeping up with everybody else.

“Sorry, words,” she says, for the moments when she can’t exactly say what she wants.

As a toddler, Jocelyn was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a rare disorder that causes poor planning and sequencing of the spoken word.

Now she’s 16 and wants to take more ownership of the things she has to say, and has worked to overcome her speech challenges and find other outlets to express herself.

In fact, she’s found theater — reading and memorizing lines — to be an alternative form of therapy. And Beatrice’s character, specifically, has become something of an example for her.

“It’s like being who I want to be, as well,” Jocelyn said.

A “motivated” little girl Wendy Lyon noticed something might be wrong when her daughter was 2 years old.

While Jocelyn watched TV, she would turn her head an odd way to listen. She didn’t like loud noises, she often stuttered and everybody had a hard time understanding her, even more so than a toddler’s already clumsy words.

She took Jocelyn to a pediatrician, who recommended a speech pathologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about five minutes from their home.

“What I saw was a little girl that did not have a typical articulation,” said Ann Arbor-based speech and language pathologist Georgianna Siehl. “She had sound errors but they were inconsistent. That was the first red flag, from a medical perspective.”

For example, a toddler might say “tup” instead of “cup.” But when Jocelyn would try to say the word, it would come out as “cut” or “ah” or sometimes even exactly right.

Almost immediately, Siehl was able to diagnose Jocelyn with childhood apraxia of speech, which is found in about 10 out of every 1,000 kids, and can differ from child to child. There’s no known cause, Siehl said.

“It wasn’t a matter of being able to produce the sounds, but produce it correctly, in words, in the right order,” she said. “What apraxia is, it’s a disorder in carrying out or learning complex movements.
“The problem was helping her get the words to be automatic.”

From there, Jocelyn started therapy two to three times a week.

Siehl used brain integration methods that combined motor movements and sounds. Jocelyn would tap out the sounds on her arm, march in place or touch her right hand to her left shoulder to cross the mid-line of her body, activating both sides of the brain.

Siehl traveled with Jocelyn, who was 4 at the time, and her family to Boulder, Colorado, for a week to visit with doctors who specialize in brain integration. She completed therapy for three to four hours each day.

By the third day, Wendy Lyon was a believer in the alternative methods.

The family — Wendy and her husband, Jocelyn, and Jocelyn’s sister, older by two years— would share a nightly ritual. They’d each say “I love you” before falling asleep, but Jocelyn would always stay quiet. But that night was different.
“I said, ‘I love you,’ and Jocelyn said, ‘I love you, too,'” Wendy recalled, fighting back tears as she remembered. “I thought, ‘There’ something to this.'”

The family moved to Naples that same year, and Siehl has reevaluated Jocelyn a few times since then.

“She’s amazing,” Siehl said. “I knew I had a star. She was a little girl that was extremely motivated to do well. She’s very smart. She also had a good sense of humor, and we incorporated that into her therapy.”

Jocelyn began in theater working on the sets, and then started to take smaller roles in the productions, sometimes even acting as male characters to fill in the cast. But Jocelyn’s sharp wit fit well with the character of Beatrice, said Peggy Arndt, the theater instructor.

“She’s never once been a student that said, ‘I can’t do this because of the apraxia,'” she said. “(Jocelyn) just looks for different ways to accomplish her goals. It’s just a testament to her drive and commitment.

“I cannot wait for our community to see her on stage as this fabulous character. I think that will be transcendent for everyone who knows Jocelyn, and Jocelyn most of all.”