Family Story: Evan

Missy and Dave Carlson noticed early on that their twins, Evan and Emily, were not developing speech at the same pace. When they began attending a Help Me Grow program in their area, Emily entered the program utilizing many words, while Evan didn’t say much. Their pediatrician recommended that they take Evan to the Masonic Children’s Clinic for Communication Disorders.

“As a parent whose kid is not talking,” said Missy, “my biggest fear was: what if he never talks?”

The skepticism of others only added to the couple’s angst. Well-meaning friends would tell Missy and Dave that Evan would “grow out of it.” Others warned that the couple “didn’t want to label Evan” with a disability. Some viewed the idea of seeking therapy for their son negatively, casting blame.

“A lot of people thought it was almost shameful, like ‘your son is having problems, so are you a bad parent?’” said Missy.  

Fortunately, the Carlsons ignored naysayers and brought then-two-year-old Evan to the Masonic Children’s Clinic in Duluth. There, they found a warm and inviting environment that immediately ebbed their fears.

“When he started his journey [at the clinic], Evan spoke four words,” said Dave. “He wouldn’t even respond to his name. But you walk through the door of the clinic, and nobody’s being judged.”

The family met Evan’s therapist, Nancy Johnston, M.S., CCC-SLP, the head speech/language pathologist at the Masonic Children’s Clinic. Nancy immediately set the family at ease and began Evan’s therapy session by connecting with him through play.

“At first I was like, wait, we’re just playing,” said Missy. “But as you watch it more, you see he’s learning to take turns, he’s learning to make sounds. You see that he’s learning.”

Within two weeks, the couple was surprised to see a change in Evan. The twins’ Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) teacher noticed improvement in Evan’s focus and attention levels. At home, Evan became less frustrated and more tolerant. His sister, Emily, experienced a positive shift as well: as Evan required less of her parents’ attention, Emily could ask for more of it.

In the roughly 18 months that Evan has worked with Nancy, he has grown in leaps and bounds, both physically and developmentally.

“Nancy’s help leveled the playing field,” said Dave, “with his sister and with everyone else. Every time we approached her with a problem, it became Nancy’s concern. She always tried to figure out how we could do things better.”

For example, when Evan had a meltdown during a trip to the grocery store, Nancy created a storybook to help break down for him the steps of the shopping experience. In the process, Nancy included his sister, too, guiding the twins through interactions.

After seeing Evan twice a week for almost two years, Nancy has truly become a member of the Carlson family.

“When he’s with her, it’s like he’s with us. She’s like a third parent. She’s a very special person to him,” said Dave. “To us as well.”

Dave’s comment underscores the appreciation his family has for Nancy’s help. She utilized imaginary play and story time to teach important lessons to Evan, but also to show Dave and Missy how to best support their son.  Too, she helped them “slow things down” to give Evan much-needed time to process.

“We learned how to talk to Evan, how to wait for eye contact,” said Dave. “No doubt about it, Nancy has helped us become better parents.”

Today, Missy no longer worries that her son won’t speak. With only a few months to go in Evan’s therapy, he’s a chatty pre-schooler who sings in the car and is learning, as all four-year-olds do, to “use his words.” The Carlsons urge others to seek help and resources as soon as they suspect their child struggles with a speech delay, remembering the negativity they faced at the beginning of Evan’s journey.

“I’ve been able to help a lot of my friends who thought there was a stigma about getting my child therapy,” said Dave. “Now, I’m like, no, you need to start young.”

For the Carlson family, there was nothing negative about finding the Masonic Children’s Clinic and Nancy Johnston. It was a positive decision that has impacted all of their lives.

“It’s so much more than speech,” Dave said. “There’s a purpose for everything. They go above and beyond, it’s just an awesome experience.”