Three-year-old Liam Liberatore first selects his pig puzzle piece.
“Oink oink here, oink oink there,” he sings.
He works down his list of animals, next selecting the frog before several others follow. Liam’s dad, Nick, describes Old McDonald as a current passion of Liam’s, though he’s still trying to get the finale down – there’s more clarity in the e’s than the i’s of E-I-E-I-O, but there’s no doubt he’ll put it all together in no time.
After all, Nick and his wife, Maranda, have seen Liam’s language blossom through Early Intervention services with the Achievement Center of LECOM Health and Early Intervention Speech Language Pathologist Jacqueline Schmitt.
During today’s session with Liam, who is diagnosed with Autism, there’s a request for applesauce here and a high-five there – but it wasn’t always like this for the Liberatore family.
A Little Love Goes a Long Way
For many parents, one of the most rewarding moments is hearing their child say ‘mama,’ ‘dada,’ and ‘I love you.’
At 18-months-old, Liam still wasn’t acknowledging his parents or verbally expressing his affection for them.
“We noticed early on that there was some delayed speech,” said Nick Liberatore. “He wasn’t saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ and he wasn’t responding to his name. We wanted to be proactive in getting services, and the driver to start was getting him to recognize and interact with us.”
In November 2021, Liam started services with the Achievement Center of LECOM Health, working with Early Intervention Speech Language Pathologist Jacqueline Schmitt. They started weekly sessions of Jacqueline joining the family in activities and getting to know Liam.
“The main concerns at the beginning were not communicating, not reaching, not pointing, so our goals were verbal and gesture imitations, finding things and labeling them, and needs-based communication,” Jacqueline said.
Jacqueline and the Liberatore family got to work, as Jacqueline used a coaching-based model that allowed her to join in on what the family is doing during their sessions and embed early communication strategies into play and day-to-day family life.
“It’s been her teaching us as much as it is her teaching him,” Nick said.
With hard work and gradual progress, Liam began using single-word phrases, including saying those favorite words of all parents: ‘mama,” ‘dada,” and “I love you.”
The first time Liam said “I love you” to his mom, Maranda quickly texted Jacqueline to share the good news.
“As a mom, you very obviously want it from the beginning,” she said. “To say ‘mama’ and to say ‘I love you,’ it means everything.”
Onto The Future
Liam will be joining a school district in September 2023, meaning he will grow out of Early Intervention services with Jacqueline. Both mom and dad see Jacqueline as a big part of their family and expressed gratefulness and sadness with the upcoming transition.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and she’s been a big part of our village,” Maranda said.
Jacqueline shared a similar close-knit take on her relationship with the Liberatore family.
“It’s been wonderful watching their family bond grow,” she said.
As Nick, Maranda, and Liam prepare for their next steps in life, they know just how far they have come in the last 18 months and all the potential for the upcoming milestones in Liam’s life.
“We wouldn’t be as well-equipped for the future without [the Achievement Center of LECOM Health,]” Nick said.