A new year, a new Gia

I knew it when I saw it. This was it. This was my cover photo. This was the picture that would introduce Gia to the world. The picture that would unveil my less than perfect reality.

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I love this picture. It’s beautiful. But it’s so much more than that – it’s symbolic.

This photo was captured just two weeks before Gia’s diagnosis with Childhood Apraxia of Speech, during what could only be described as a disaster of a photo session.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The fall family pictures of 2014. You know the pictures – the ones you need to go perfectly so you can send out the perfect holiday card that looks like everything went perfectly. Yep, it was those pictures.

So on October 28th of 2014, we drove to the perfect setting, dressed in the perfect outfits, to meet the perfect photographer. It was going to be just perfect!

As soon as Gia stepped out of the car, it was like she stepped on to another planet – Planet Overdrive. She was so distracted by everything around her, that you couldn’t get her attention for anything. She wanted nothing to do with us, the camera, or even an ice cream truck if it drove by. The entire session became a broken record of, “Gia! Gia! Gia!”. Nothing. We had no control over her, and she seemed to have no more control over herself.

Well there goes my perfect holiday card.

I left holding back tears. Had I completely failed as a mom? Was I raising an undisciplined, out-of-control brat? Or was her behavior symptomatic of a bigger problem? But what problem?

The apraxia news came shortly after, followed by the “suspected” Sensory Processing Disorder conversation.

My world imploded, but it suddenly made sense – beginning with our family pictures. It was one of many lightbulb moments to come. You can’t ask a child with untreated sensory issues to join you in an unknown environment, with a camera in their face and everyone shouting their name. You just can’t.

It was one year ago that I wrote my first post,  Apraxia? What’s that?, and What Would Gia Say? was officially born. When it had come time to choose the cover photo for my blogI turned to my imperfect fall family photos.

In a sea of perfectly unposed “candid” shots, there it was – the perfect picture.

It was a flawless representation of Gia at the time. She was like any other three year old that was ready to talk, but she couldn’t, and she didn’t understand why. This picture shows her struggle. I see a little girl who looks vulnerable and insecure, who’s confidence is depleting. She even looks a little lost, a little scared. When I look at this picture, I can see her, she’s in there. She’s a beautiful flower that’s just waiting to bloom.

I remember standing behind our photographer as she took this picture, desperately trying to get Gia to look, smile, pay attention…anything! I pleaded with her to get that scarf out of her face and stop covering her mouth. If Gia had listened to me, this would have been a pretty picture, but not my cover photo.

Here we are today. It’s a new year, and a new Gia.

The little girl you see in that black and white photo is not who Gia is today. So that beautifully imperfect picture has been retired. It makes me sad to see it go, but so grateful for what it means to leave it behind. What that picture represents now is so much deeper, and something only I, as Gia’s mom will ever really understand. It will forever be special to me.

So for my regular readers, I’m sure you’ve noticed – a new cover photo, and a lighter and brighter blog!

On October 3rd of 2015, I gave those fall family photos another try, only this time around, the word perfect had taken on a whole new meaning. You might call it, perspective. I simply hoped for the best, and the best was whatever Gia could give me.

Once again, I left holding back tears. Did that really just happen? Was that my daughter? Has she really come this far? Made that much growth?

Gia was happy, confident and controlled. She was completely in-tune with us and the reason we were there. Her environment was secondary, and she looked comfortable in it. Not only was she excited to take pictures, but she TALKED about getting them taken. It was a dream.

I was so proud of her.

Needless to say, I had a lot of pictures to choose from. My husband and I both agreed, this was the one. The new cover photo. The new Gia.

View More: http://molliecostleyphotography.pass.us/tufano15

This picture spoke to me much like the other. It fully embodies Gia and the stage of apraxia that she’s in today. I’ll let you use your own interpretation of why we might have chosen this particular photo (I’d love to hear what it is).

I’m going to end this post and start a new year with the famous words that every apraxia parent has or will at one point utter – she has come so far, but she still has so far to go.

I’ll take one Apraxia handbook, please!

My husband would refer to me as a “recipe follower”. As odd as the description is, it sums me up pretty well. I follow recipes down to the 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. If my awesome cook of a mother saw a recipe that called for 1/8 teaspoon pepper, she would toss some pepper in her palm, and throw it in the bowl. When I see it however, I get out my nifty little 1/8 teaspoon for measuring, poor the pepper in and slide a knife across the top. Yep. That’s me. In a nutshell. Don’t get me started on recipes that call for a “dash” of something. What does that even mean? I’ll just “dash” my way back to the cookbook and find a recipe that isn’t speaking nonsense.

Every few months my husband will challenge me, “Ok babe, how about tonight you try cooking without any measuring cups…Ohhhh snap!”. He thinks he’s funny, so I’ve humored him back and tried it a couple times. Just the act of it made me uncomfortable, but it doesn’t stop there. When we are sitting down to eat our meal of unmeasured ingredients, I’ve already convinced myself that it’s ruined. What if I had followed the recipe? What would it taste like? What would it look like? After all, recipes are there for a reason, right? They are there to say, “Oh you want Chicken Parmigiana tonight? Well here’s EXACTLY how to get it. You’re welcome.” It’s a beautiful thing!

So there you have it, I am a “recipe follower”, that has a child with Apraxia. What does being a “recipe follower” have to do with Apraxia, you ask? Let me explain.

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As Gia was receiving her diagnosis I, like all Apraxia parents, wanted to know what was next. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Just lay it all out and I’m on board. Please just tell me how to fix this. You leave the therapists office with your plan of action, and a whole lot of hope. But wait, you forgot to give me my handbook! Oh that’s ok, I’ll just do a little research online, find my trusty little Apraxia handbook, it will tell me EXACTLY how to fix this, and voila! So I researched, and nothing. Researched again, still nothing. Not one Apraxia handbook, not one recipe for the perfect Apraxia stew, not one instructional guide to the fastest Apraxia resolve, and not one set of directions to an Apraxia-free life. Nothing. Doesn’t Apraxia know the value of a good old-fashioned, step-by-step recipe?!

So here I am 7 months later, and still no handbook. As anxiety-provoking as it was, I had no choice but to accept that I would never find my black and white answer to Apraxia, and I would be living in the gray for years to come. This was nothing that my measuring cups could fix. Every child’s Apraxia recipe is different, and I had to depend on a team of people to help me create Gia’s. The reality is, the recipe changes – sometimes daily! Miss Anna-Alyse may have a plan for Gia’s session that I like to believe looks something like this…

Gia’s Apraxia Recipe:
3/4 cup of 2-syllable words
1/4 cup of ‘L’ & ‘R’ sounds
2 tablespoons of 3-word sentences

…then my spunky, strong-willed, stubborn like her daddy 4 year-old comes in all like…

My Apraxia Recipe for today!!! 🙂 😦 🙂 😦 😦 :/
1 cup of 1-syllable words
1 cup of sensory seeking
A dash of tantrum


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4 year-olds think about two things: playing and sugar. Having a 4 year-old in this much therapy is not normal. It’s a constant balancing act of getting in as much therapy as we can in the hopes of quicker results, and not working her too hard with the fear of overwhelming her to point of regression. There’s this voice in your head that one week is saying, “She’s exhausted, maybe I need to cut back on therapy.”, and the next week is saying, “She’s doing awesome! Let’s add two more days of therapy!” It could drive you insane!

I recently went through a bit of a “funk”, where I had a nagging feeling that I needed to change something about Gia’s Apraxia recipe; both at home and at therapy. On the home front, we are testing out the new Speech E-Z Apraxia Program App (this is exciting!), we are cutting back on her sugar intake (this should be fun!), and we are starting Gia on a daily routine of fish oil, choline, and probiotics (yay for research!). On the therapy front, I had a much needed meeting with one of Gia’s PATIENT SLP’s, Anna-Alyse. Our meeting turned in to a counseling session, that in the end helped me make a decision I had pondered over for weeks. So I added another day of Speech, and decided to try some Music therapy once a week to top it off. So yes, overnight I added two more hours of therapy a week to Gia’s recipe, and I feel good about it! My gut was telling me she could handle more and needed more, so I listened to it. If it’s all too much for Gia, then I’m only a few steps away from the simple solution: First, my gut will tell me, then I’ll obsess about it, then I’ll have Anna-Alyse make me feel better, then I’ll just change the recipe again. Simple!

Having no control over something as life-changing as Apraxia has been a tough pill to swallow. I had to go through many sleepless nights and nail-biting sessions to finally swallow that square-shaped pill. I have my ups and downs, my days that Apraxia and I just aren’t seeing eye to eye. I can promise you I will have these days until the last minute of Gia’s last therapy session, and probably even after. Apraxia goes against everything that I am – it’s my dash of salt. I like instructions, I like directions, and I really, really like recipes! Gia and her clingy little sidekick, Apraxia are going to teach me a thing or two about life – let go, have faith and trust.

Gia is currently working toward mastering her 3-word sentences. With that being said, there are very few phrases she can use intelligibly that have more than 3 words. I’m going to leave you with one of them…

“Mom, calm down mom… Mom, calm down. Just calm down, mom.”

We’re meant for each other 🙂

Sharing my story (the truth)

Public speaking is scary for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. For some people, their fear is so debilitating, that they spend their entire lives avoiding it. For others, it’s a natural-born gift, and they thrive off the adrenaline rush. I would say for me, I land somewhere in the middle. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t love it either. The reason that it’s hard for me personally, is exactly that – it’s me, and I’m hard on me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, a bit obsessive, and a bit of an over-thinker, and those three qualities can be a brutal combination for public anything. Plain and simple, being in the center of it all is just not my thing. I prefer to blend in. After college, most of us leave our public speaking days behind us. Unless giving presentations or speeches is part of your job description, many of us don’t have to worry about all of those eyes starring up at us, waiting for you to say something interesting. Up until recently, I thought I would be a part of the majority, and I was good with that. When you have a friend like Colleen, you will never be part of the majority.

Anyone who follows me on any level has probably heard about my friend Colleen, and her non-profit organization, SCOTT Foundation. If you are new to my blog however, you can catch yourself up on Colleen in two previous posts, “Differently Gifted” and “Speaking up for Gia“. I can promise you’ll hear her name again, and again and again!

Being asked by Colleen to share my story of Apraxia publicly at a SCOTT Foundation luncheon, was both exhilarating and taxing all at the same time. I love taking on new challenges that force me out of my comfort zone, but I equally hate failing at them. I can put so much pressure on myself, that it would be easier to just stay in my own little box that presents no real challenges (but that wouldn’t be much fun, would it?!). These are two sides of my brain that have battled each other since my early teenage years. So of course my first reaction to the opportunity is, “Of course I’ll make a speech! That sounds new and fun!”. Meanwhile, my husband is on the sidelines saying, “Oh god…here we go”. What can I say, he knows me well!

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The people that attend these luncheons are some of the most inspiring and selfless human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Like myself, and like all of you, they all have a story. They are the perfect example of how we ourselves can control how our story ends. They have overcome their personal struggles by inspiring change and making a positive impact in their community. I was in such aw of this group after my first luncheon, that I called Colleen and told her I felt a little out of place. She somehow convinced me that I was not only worthy of sitting alongside these wonderful people, but that I was worthy of standing in front of them to share my story. How do you inspire, inspiring people? Well according to Colleen it’s simple, just be yourself! Do you know me but at all, Colleen?

I could have taken my speech in a few different directions, and one of the most difficult parts of preparing for it was deciding which direction I wanted to take. I kept going back to the idea that just one year ago, I would have never thought I would be in this space – a space of peace and acceptance. The world of Apraxia does not breed feelings of contentment, but rather quite the opposite. It’s a world of the unknown, that keeps you white-knuckling the edge of your seat. So how did I get here? Well, that gave me my answer. My story was much deeper than my daughter’s speech disorder, and I was going to tell it in it’s entirety. Essentially saying, here is where I was, here is where I am now, and here is how I got here. Writing that speech was therapeutic and reaffirming. I am there representing “What Would Gia Say?”, but “What Would Gia Say?” wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the beginning and middle of my story, and I believe that now more than ever.

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Colleen and I right before my speech at the SCOTT Foundation luncheon.

My speech went well! I shared some things that I had never shared publicly before, and never thought I would. Sharing those things was the only real way to tell my true story. If I wanted people to fully understand how I got to this place of strength and optimism, I had to lead people down my path, and my path wasn’t always pretty. Yes, I cried through about half of it. They weren’t happy tears or sad tears. Speaking your truth is an overwhelming release, and that’s really where my tears came from. They were also tears for Gia. Not because of how difficult it is to have a child with Apraxia, but because of everything that child with Apraxia has taught me. Gia is the reason I had the courage to stand up there that day.

From the day I told Colleen about Gia’s diagnosis with Apraxia, there was two things she was determined to help me with: finding peace with my new reality, and raising awareness to the unknown disorder. Colleen regularly puts opportunities in front of me that have the potential to bring about awareness, make connections with others, and encourage personal growth. She leaves it up to me to take the opportunity or not. I’ve questioned and obsessed over every opportunity I’ve taken. but not once have I regretted taking one. I’m extending my path and adding chapters to my story, and that is the key to living a full and regret-free life.

Colleen built SCOTT Foundation from the ground up, not knowing anything about the non-profit community. She now selflessly takes her knowledge, connections and resources to others. She has a giving spirit and never wants a thing in return. Whether it’s someone looking to start a Foundation themselves, or someone who is simply going through a tough transition in their lives, she points them in the direction they need to go. She doesn’t lead them, she guides them. She doesn’t save them, she helps them save themselves. I’ve heard Colleen described as an angel more than once, and there are many people that would say she changed their life. Colleen doesn’t change lives, she changes people, and people change their lives.

The Apraxia Angels

Gia’s speech therapist had seen Apraxia in children before, and couldn’t help but notice some of the “typical” signs in Gia. As strong as her feelings were, she regrettably admitted that this was not something she was qualified to diagnose, or even provide therapy for. She explained that this wasn’t your typical speech delay, but that it was a neurological speech disorder, that would require years of intensive “drill” therapy by a specialized therapist. As I held back tears, I asked, “What does this mean for Gia’s future?” With a smile on her face, she replied, “Gia has a bright future!” She felt confident that someday, she will sound just like her peers, and this will all be a thing of the past. In the same breath, she was honest with us, and said this would be a very long road, and our lives will revolve around her treatment. “I’m going to refer you over to a place called The Foundations Developmental House, who specializes in Apraxia”, she said. “They will be able to help Gia”.

My husband and I were quiet on the way home. At that moment, we both needed to process this information on our own. We went to this meeting with very different views about Gia, but left with the same heart-breaking news. I went through a range of emotions on the 15 minute drive home, but as I sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window, I cried silent tears of relief. I finally knew how to help my daughter, my husband and I would finally be on the same page, and I could finally leave the months of denial behind me. Continue reading