Confidently Speaking: Veronica's Story
A year and a half of specialized speech therapy after cleft palate helped build Veronica's confidence and her conversation skills.
Veronica was just 8 months old when she came to Shriners Children's Chicago with a cleft palate, a small hole in the roof of her mouth, related to a jaw tumor removed just after birth. David Morris, M.D., chief of plastic surgery, performed two surgeries to repair the palate. She also had ear tubes placed.
Speech challenges are common for children with cleft palate. After Veronica healed from surgery, she resumed speech therapy through her state's early intervention program. But her family said she made only limited progress in her talking skills over the next year
She spoke a little, she had trouble with some letters and word pronunciation.
Veronica was 4 when she started speech therapy at Shriners Children’s with ”Mrs. Richards,” as she likes to call speech language pathologist Sarah Richards, MS CCC-SLP, who specializes in treating children with cleft and craniofacial conditions. Veronica struggled with many sounds she should have been making accurately at her age. "She would say ‘gaga’ for ‘dada’ or ‘kukky’ for ‘puppy,’ which made it difficult to understand her,” Richards said. These speech differences often occur as patients learn alternative ways to speak because of the cleft.
Veronica came every Tuesday to the Chicago location for an hour of speech therapy. Using a fun child-focused approach, they worked to correctly produce consonants such as p, b, t and d. “Once she progressed in those areas, the focus shifted to later developing sounds, such as /s/ and /s/ blends (‘soup’, ‘spider’). Veronica made tremendous progress,” Richards said.
Veronica spent 17 months in therapy. At first, she “was very shy. With every week she was more excited and happy about ‘Ms. Richards’ and the activities they have been doing. When she saw her in the hall, she ran to her, hugged her and forget about my existence,” Veronica’s father, Dominik, said. After each session, Richards would discuss progress, or concerns if there were any. “She also gave us homework, usually activities or a list of words that we could practice at home.”
Working hard and playing with “Ms. Richards” had a huge role in Veronica's overall development. With time, Veronica felt more confident speaking. "She was not shy around adults or kids anymore," Veronica's family said. Veronica also received speech therapy within her school district, where the therapist noticed her tremendous progress.
Veronica was discharged from speech therapy at Shriners Children’s in the summer of 2022. “Shriners Children’s Chicago has great doctors and therapists. It is a place to go when your child needs help. We will be forever thankful to Ms. Richards for everything she did for Veronica and our family,” Veronica's family said.