Making a Connection

SBL Speech Therapy Services offers support for children with autism.

Brothers Colin and Jaxon Zastrow Brothers Colin and Jaxon Zastrow are happy, playful little boys, yet they see the world a little differently than most children.

While parents Todd and Kyla Zastrow of Mattoon think both boys are wonderful, they each face their own unique challenges. Colin was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age two. Jaxon didn’t start exhibiting behavioral symptoms until he was three and a half. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, which is on the autism spectrum, but not falling within any of the existing categories.

With very different personalities and obstacles to overcome, both boys are making tremendous progress with help from Sarah Bush Lincoln Speech Therapy services. Children with autism generally have problems in three critical areas of development – language, social interaction, and behavior. For Colin, his symptoms were evident from a young age. While he hit all his physical milestones, his speech was delayed, his mother said. “That was really our only concern. He was such a happy child and he entertained himself so well, we just thought he was going to be an easy baby when he was really absorbed in his own world.”

Remembering back, “Colin became extremely selective about the foods he would eat at 14 months and he started to slip away from us,” she said. “If he hadn’t been our first child, we may have noticed other signs as well. He didn’t point, he didn’t gesture and I don’t remember him making eye contact.”

Diagnosed shortly before moving to the area in 2007, Colin immediately responded to therapy through the Early Intervention program. However, when he turned three, he was referred to Ann Dralle, a speech therapist at Sarah Bush Lincoln. “Colin has made such amazing progress with Ann. She is a very trusted individual in his life,” Mrs. Zastrow said. “She’s become a family friend. She’s warm, she’s flexible, and she’s chosen to try to understand his world and that’s something special. I don’t have enough good things to say about her.”

When Colin first started working with Dralle, he had very little ability to interact with people or converse, his mother said. Over the course of therapy, “he has learned how to relay his wants using many different words. He’ll greet people and say ‘how are you?’ and he will even answer a few questions,” she said. “He’s not a conversationalist by any means, but he’ll tell you things that are going on in the world around him and in the world of autism, that’s huge.”

She is also helping him to overcome his reluctance to eat different foods by introducing them very slowly.  “The goal of one of his sessions was just to get him to touch a certain food with one finger,” Mrs. Zastrow said. “I told Ann he licked a strawberry and she made the next session all about strawberries. She gets right down on the floor with him and tries to get him to lick this or bite that. It’s a painstaking process, and she’s eaten all kinds of things with my son despite whether she’s hungry.”

Unlike Colin, Jaxon started talking early and appeared to be developing normally until he was three and a half. Though he was already sensitive to certain sounds, he also began exhibiting repetitive behaviors and having difficulty handling change. Following his diagnosis, Jaxon began joint therapy sessions with Dralle, to improve his mechanical way of speaking, and with Pediatric Occupational Therapist Jessica Walker to help him cope better with his emotions.

Mrs. Zastrow is impressed with the creative ways therapists have helped her son handle good-byes. “Jaxon has a very difficult time transitioning from one activity to the next and will sometimes have melt downs over it,” she said. At the close of one session, “Jaxon was already starting to erupt when Jessica got down on the floor with him and said ‘lets pretend we’re dogs’ just to try to get him out of the room without losing control. She crawled down the entire hallway with him just to make it easier for him to leave.”

His mother said he has progressed to the point where he can now walk out of most sessions just holding her hand. His speech has also improved and he is using longer sentences. The plan is to start working with Jaxon on school-based skills. He will start kindergarten in the fall. Colin is also in school and will start first grade this fall.

While the Zastrows’ have big dreams for their sons, they are different than the ones they once imagined. “It’s been very hard, and very overwhelming at times caring for two sons with special needs,” Mrs. Zastrow said. However she is thankful to find such strong support for children with autism in the area.

She is also extremely thankful to have such a supportive husband. Working as the music minister at Broadway Christian Church, “He’ll come home and wrestle with boys on the bed for 30 minutes. He’s their fun, silly dad and it really settles them. I can’t fathom the idea of caring for them by myself,” she said. “I have a very good life, but it’s very different than what I had pictured. The fact that my boys are doing so well helps keep me going,” she said.

Benefits of Speech Therapy for Autism

Speech therapy can improve overall communication. This makes it possible for people with autism to improve their ability to form relationships and function in day-to-day life.

Goals of speech therapy include helping a person with autism to:
    • Communicate both verbally and nonverbally
    • Articulate words well
    • Comprehend verbal and nonverbal communication
    • Communicate in ways to develop relationships
    • Develop conversational skills
    • Know the appropriate time and place to communicate something
    • Enjoy communicating, playing, and interacting with peers
    • Improve feeding issues

It is very important to start speech therapy as early as possible, when it can have the greatest impact. Autism is usually evident before age three. Research has continually shown that with early intervention, there is much that can be done to improve the communication skills of children on the autism spectrum.

For further information or to arrange an appointment with a speech-language pathologist, call the Department of Speech and Language-Pathology at (217) 258- or 348-2568.