Born at a mere 29 weeks, Avery Berry spent the initial 57 days of her life at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Women’s and Babies, where Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) doctors, nurses, and her family rallied around her until she was strong enough to go home.
For her first two years her parents enveloped her in a world of language, speaking, singing, and reading to her. Despite cooing and babbling back, at two years old, Avery still showed no sign of language development. Concerned but undeterred, her parents and physicians explored Early Intervention speech therapy options for her.
Avery’s mom, Angie, believes that their NICU experience with CHOP doctors contributed to their swift acceptance into Early Intervention services. Once accepted, they chose to pursue therapy at the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development.
Avery’s first year of speech therapy took place within the familiar confines of her own home three times a week, under the guidance of her therapist, Cassie. Her family’s primary goal was simple: to help Avery find words. While her parents diligently worked on baby sign language to bridge the language gap, their ultimate hope was to witness her communicate with the world.
Angie reminisces, “While she wasn’t necessarily shy, she struggled to connect with kids her age due to her communication limitations.” But through play-based therapies with Cassie and consistent practice with her parents, Avery embarked on her journey to building her language skills. Cassie’s creative and ever-changing repertoire of toys and games kept Avery engaged and excited during each session.
And then, one day, it happened. Avery uttered her first word – “Moo”. Both Angie and Cassie couldn’t help but shed tears of joy. Avery, who had once been unable to form words, had taken her first monumental step. Shortly after, she astounded them by saying ‘meow,’ a challenging word for any young speaker, let alone someone who had just begun their speech therapy journey.
Between therapy sessions Avery’s parents worked with her on every technique that Cassie modeled for them. One of the things that Angie believes helped Avery most was a technique called Visual Biofeedback, or mirror-play. Everyday Angie and Avery would stand in front of a mirror in their home and talk to each other. This allowed Avery to become more aware of her own facial expressions and speech sound productions, and eventually led to her gaining more voluntary control of her facial and oral structures.
Angie reflects, “Avery never became frustrated or angry about her inability to articulate her needs because she received the time and attention she needed, along with the support of her therapists and us.”
Once she aged out of Early Intervention, Avery started to attend Schreiber Center for speech therapy and began working with Becca, who she sees weekly. She is also enrolled in our S.T.A.R.S. Preschool and loves her teachers Mr. Jay and Ms. Michele. Angie proudly boasts “After two years of speech therapy at Schreiber Avery’s self-confidence with social interactions has sky rocketed. Now that she can speak and communicate effectively her confidence has soared, she’s made a ton of friends in preschool, and is comfortable expressing herself.”
When Avery isn’t in speech therapy or preschool, she and her mom love going to the park to play, taking little shopping trips to Target, and going to the library to check out new books to read together. At only four years old, Avery has become quite a little bookworm, and while her parents still read to her often, she loves being able to read to them too.
She and dad love playing outside, taking walks, and working on projects. She wants to be a hands-on helper for all projects in and out of the house. Her parents say they wouldn’t be surprised if Avery grew up to become an engineer because of her curiosity about how things are made and how they work. To encourage her creativity and curiosity every few months she gets a ‘Discovery Kit’ in the mail that includes a craft or project that she and her dad work on together.
One lesson that Angie learned through Avery’s therapy journey is that “Comparison is the thief of joy” so while she is incredibly proud of Avery’s reading skills and ingenuity, she also understands firsthand how difficult it is to watch other children develop on a different timeline than your own. “We tell Avery all the time that she is right on time with her own journey.” Angie shares. Which we think is a perfect reminder for us all, not to compare ourselves or our children to anyone else.
It’s difficult for parents and families who aren’t going through pediatric therapy services for their children to understand what it’s like, but Avery’s parents found community at the Schreiber Center through Schreiber’s hosted events and by bonding with other families in the waiting room. Angie advises any parent who is considering pediatric therapy for their own children to “Do it! The earlier the better and don’t compare your journey, or your child’s progress against anyone else.”
Help Schreiber Clients like Avery receive the care they need, consider donating in support of our Kids’ Care Fund, a long and short term savings account used to cover the costs of uncompensated care.
As a nationally recognized pediatric facility, the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development provides family-centered education and therapy programs for infants, children and adolescents with disabilities, developmental delays, and acquired injuries. Our goal-oriented approach maximizes each child’s ability to function independently within the community.