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Mother/daughter duo present on Childhood Apraxia of Speech

| Tuesday, September 8, 2015

As part of Support a Belle, Love a Belle (SABLAB) week, the Student Government Association presented two alumnae of the College, Kathy Hennessy and her daughter, Kate Hennessy, on Tuesday, September 7 in Madaleva Hall. They discussed apraxia and the impact it had on their lives, highlighting how we should be aware of diseases that aren’t physically crippling.

Kathy Hennessy described childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) and the effects it has on children.

“Speech is a complex motor task that involves the planning, the programming, and the execution to obtain speech,” she said. “With childhood apraxia of speech, there’s an interruption in the planning and programming of speech. So in other words, there’s a breakdown between the message in the brain, the lips, the tongue, the jaw, the articulator.

“CAS is not about weak muscles; it’s not about waiting for a child to outgrow it. It’s not a learning disability, and what we now know is that the vast majority of children who have CAS can be resolved. And there’s not a whole lot of research on CAS, but we are coming to understand that there’s one in 1,000 children who will be diagnosed with CAS.”

Before apraxia was diagnosed as a disorder, parents were ill-informed on the matter, Kate Hennessy said.

“With this sort of disorder, parents were advised to lower the expectations,” she said. “They were told that their kids would not go to college, wouldn’t talk and in some cases they were told to institutionalize their children.”

As a single mother, Kathy Hennessy raised her two children, Kate and Andy, who were both diagnosed with apraxia at young ages. The process of discovering their disorder, however, proved to be difficult due to the lack of knowledge and research on apraxia.

“According to the American Speech and Hearing Association, in 2007, they came out with a position statement and a technical report that recognized the childhood apraxia of speech as an actual disorder,” Kathy Hennessy said.

Kate Hennessy described her experience growing up with a disorder that made feel different from her friends and the impact that has had on her life.

“You know, growing up being different than everyone else and having something that makes you stand apart from your friends and other people in the classroom, it made me all the more compassionate to people who do have differences,” she said. “And it really made me and my brother advocates for not just childhood apraxia of speech.”

Through Kathy’s encouragement, the help of therapists and patience, Kate and Andy became more confident in their ability to speak over time. Although they carry a residual affect, they continue to strive in everyday matters. Kate Hennessy successfully works in the film industry across the country, while Andy Hennessy is studying electrical engineering. The Hennessy family promote the awareness of apraxia through talks and through its book, “Anything but Silent.”

Kathy Hennessy emphasized the importance of acknowledging non-physical disabilities, particularly in children.

“It’s important to realize that not all disabilities can be seen, that there are hidden disabilities and people can suffer and need help but look happy,” she said. “It’s important to reach out. If you think somebody’s in trouble, as well as yourself, and you find help, I don’t think there’s any embarrassment in that.

“I think there’s plenty of places on campus to go to or to each other. I think supporting each other is crucial. I think Saint Mary’s is really great with that — the girls support each other so well here.”

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