Tuperman Meet Superman - Successful Speech Therapy

A young child with autism makes amazing progress in her speech therapy, in this true story.

By Margaret Gonzalez

When I first got five-year-old Tammy, I took her to my parents' home in Fort Myers, Florida. I was a teacher in New York city and happy to have a chance to take her for a visit during my spring break. She was living with a kind, but temporary, foster family in Miami. The paper work had not been completed for me to take her back with me, but still I could have a little visit and introduce her to what I hoped would be her new family. I wanted to hurry the process because I felt that somehow I would find a way to fix all that was broken in her.

She was speech impaired and emotionally fragile from having endured five placements. My brother and his family were coming for Easter. Wanting to give her a sense of belonging, I showed her photo albums so that she would know Uncle Joe, Aunt Sharon, Andy and Becky in advance. The albums seized her attention. She considered the pictures, with care, squinting to check the fine details. Suddenly she began to wail. She wanted to throw the albums on the floor. She seemed dangerously near to ripping out pages.

"Tammy. Tammy, what's the matter?"

"Where Ca'y?"

"Oh, my God. You're right."

My mother came running in. "What's the matter with her?"

"She's upset because her picture isn't in the album. Tammy, listen Honey, you're right. Your picture isn't in there yet. Don't worry, Sweetie. We'll take pictures of you and put them in."

She blotted her face against my leg and cried her eyes out.

"Poor baby," said Mom.

My niece Becky had just turned ten, so I took Tammy shopping at Edison Mall to buy a gift. We found a necklace, had it gift-wrapped, and headed back to the car. As we passed the food court, we heard music. At a store that sold musical instruments, someone was playing jaunty tunes on an electric organ. Tammy broke away from me and started to dance. She lost herself in the music. With no self-consciousness, this tiny child twirled, charming the crowd. Arms up and head up, she was in her own personal trance. She swayed. She rocked. When the music stopped, applause broke out. A lady said to me, "She is so adorable." Then she turned to Tammy and said, "What’s your name, Honey?"

"Ca'y," she said.

"Cammy," said the lady.

"No,” said Tammy with frustration and anger. "Ca'y."

"Tammy," I said.

"Oh TAMMY," said the lady. "Well Tammy, you are a very beautiful dancer."

That summer, Tammy became my foster child. After all my big talk to the world and to myself that Tammy's placement with me was her ticket to all the services she needed, I had to face the reality that I had no idea where to look. At least I had found a wonderful kindergarten for her in the Quaker school where I taught.

One day, as we were walking along, she saw a picture of Superman. "Tuperman!" she said. I stopped short; she could say the "t" sound. She was saying the "k" sound for the "t" sound and the "t" sound for the "s" sound. She just had some crossed consonant wires.

"Tammy," I said, "Say Sammy."

"Tammy," she said.

She said it perfectly. Where was my lantern? I wanted to run through the streets shouting, Eureka. "That’s it! That’s your name. Say it again."


"YES!" And she never said it wrong again.

"Tammy. Tammy. Tammy."

"By George, you've got it!"

So by trial and error, she made progress.

Still, it was a drop in the bucket. In these pre-Google days, I turned to the yellow pages, where I looked up "speech." There I found one listing for speech therapy and it happened to be a few blocks away at an institution called the International Center for the Disabled. I called up and was immediately assigned a speech therapist named Julie.

Julie did an assessment and discovered that in addition to the very apparent articulation issues, Tammy was missing several parts of speech. She had no possessive adjectives, for instance, and used pronouns instead –"me cat," "you school."

Tammy looked forward to her weekly sessions with Julie, who, among many other activities, had Tammy look at pictures of multi-syllabic items like binoculars and alligators, and then encouraged her to say all four syllables. Within a year, Tammy had all the parts of speech and would no longer strike people as speech impaired. Julie said that she probably would always have some pronunciation issues, but she was officially finished with speech therapy. I considered this Tammy's first and most thrilling success in the world of support services.

Margaret Gonzalez is the author of Body in Space, the story of two people: Tammy, a five-year-old child living in the precarious world of foster care, and Marge, a French teacher, who took her in and eventually adopted her. When Marge met Tammy, she could not say her own name, She was diagnosed with a disorder on the autism spectrum. Marge believed then - and she persists in believing (though in a new way) - that love can heal.