Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2009, 8:53 pm

Riding benefits children with apraxia of speech

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By Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

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Photo: Stephanie Makosky
Tom Welge, center, and his four-man team including Tom Priester, left, Paul Milligan, right, Don Berry, and Jim Berding started their bike ride Friday on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, and their first stop was in Rock Island on Sunday. Mr. Welge is heading up the Mississippi River Apraxia Challenge Ride '09, a 585-mile fundraising bike ride down the Mississippi River, to raise funds for the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. Speech pathology students from Augustana College welcomed Mr. Welge and his team to the area with a round of applause and a picnic reception at the college.
ROCK ISLAND-- He wanted to support the organization that has offered so much support to his son.

So TomWelge, of Chester, Ill., found four men willing to ride 585 miles and follow the Mississippi River through Illinois in the name of the Childhood Apraxia Speech Association of North America.

Mr. Welge called it the Mississippi River Apraxia Challenge Ride '09.

They raised funds -- about $12,500 -- and left the Wisconsin border on Sunday morning, riding 101 miles to Rock Island, ending up at Augustana College to a standing ovation from faculty, students and parents who know the impact of childhood apraxia of speech, or CAS, and realize the good outcomes from intense and early therapy.

They also realized the impact Mr. Welge and his caravan are making.

"We came out to support these gentlemen on their ride to raise awareness of childhood apraxia of speech,"said Craig Benisch, RockIsland.

He and his wife, Gerianne, both said it is rare and hard to diagnose. They once were told their son, Colin, now 8, never would speak. After a diagnosis of apraxia of speech and several years of therapy at the Augustana College Center for Speech, Language and Hearing, Colin is doing wonderful, Ms. Benisch said.

CAS is a motor speech disorder which prevents children from planning and producing complicated movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate which are needed for speech. It is estimated the condition affects 1 in 1,000 children. If left untreated, the lack of verbal communication can affect many areas of a child's social, educational and emotional development.

Mr. Welge's son first was diagnosed to have a form of autism. They didn't accept the label and continued to take him to neurologists and doctors, until one pointed out he may have a speech disorder.

Mr. Welge's son was diagnosed with CAStwo years ago and he and his wife, Tracy, relied heavily on the Childhood Apraxia Speech Association for information on treatment for their son. "The more we learned about it, the more we knew there could be good outcomes with aggressive treatment," he said.

When his son first was tested for apraxia, he did not register on any scale. After a year of therapy, he rated "moderate to severe." Now, he's rated "slight."

"We encourage parents and grandparents to not sit back and waste the early years when it can have the biggest impact on a child," Mr. Welge said.

Augustana students involved in the Center for Speech, Language and Hearing raised $600 for the cause, and presented it to Mr. Welge on Sunday. Colin and his sister, Claire, 12, also raised $510 for the cause.

The ride continues today when the group plans to ride 121 miles to Nauvoo, and will average 100 miles per day until the ride ends Friday inCairo.