Going to the horse barn brings out the best in 8-year-old Elaina Perolla. Just ask her mom.
“Motivation, determination and she never gives up,” said Nicole DeVaul Michel, Elaina’s mom, to describe her daughter.
Elaina rides horses once a week.
“Confidence is key,” said DeVaul Michel, “especially for girls nowadays.”
In the barn, Elaina can express herself.
“Every child deserves a voice,” said DeVaul Michel.
It’s something that’s hard for her in other settings.
“I don’t want it to define her,” said DeVaul Michel. “I want her to know that she’s more than that; more than apraxia.”
Elaina has childhood apraxia of speech. It’s a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to speak and affects about one in 1,000 children. Many children have difficulty planning the mouth movements for speech.
“So that can make it difficult for them to produce sounds,” said Nicole Caballero, a speech language pathologist. “It can make it difficult to move through sounds so they have difficulty with prosody or rhythms of speech.”
Elaina has trouble speaking, but it clearly doesn’t hold her back
“I want to get her story out,” said DeVaul Michel. “When I say she has childhood apraxia, people don’t always know what it is. So I want more people to be aware of what it is."
Once a week, Elaina goes to speech therapy at the Gebbie Clinic at Syracuse University. Those visits have expanded her vocabulary from about 50 words to more than 200. On top of that, she does speech therapy every day at school.
“She was doing a good job repeating it right after me so I was increasing the amount of time between me saying the word and her saying the word,” said Caballero. “That just gives her more independence in the movement for the word.”
For about 35 minutes Elaina and Caballero go back and forth repeating words with some built in color breaks.
“We want to get as many trials and accurate as possible,” said Caballero. “That repetition is really important.”
So back at the barn, Elaina can explain what she’s doing.
“It hurts,” she said while brushing her horse’s hair.
“She’s everything,” said DeVaul Michel. “I’m so proud of her, of everything that she’s accomplishing
The goal is for patients, like Elaina, to graduate from speech therapy.