When Michael Siaopo was almost three years old, his parents Anele and Nigel, noticed he was slow in the way he spoke compared to other children his age. They initially thought he might have a hearing impairment. He didn’t. It affected his development and overall wellbeing. The family tried various avenues to get the help he needed. The help they sought finally came through Auckland-based health care provider, the Fono, in their Manurewa Whanau Ora service.
Through the service, Michael was diagnosed with Global Development Delay, meaning he had lower intellectual functioning than what is perceived as 'normal'.
Anele says he would point and make sounds for things. When no one could understand, Michael would cry in frustration.
“He’d try to speak, but the words would sound off,” recalls Anele who, at the time, was experiencing migraines due to dental issues, which couldn’t be treated because of the cost, particularly in trying to find help for Michael.
Specialists at Manukau SuperClinic recommended Michael receive private speech therapy, but the cost was beyond Anele and Nigel’s budget.
The young family, which also included younger sibling Winter, was commuting from South Auckland to Albany for Massey University’s Speech Language Clinic.
The clinic offered Michael two terms of speech therapy at $20 per session, which was all the family could afford.
When Michael was re-assessed, the family were told they should look at private therapy, which they couldn’t afford.
Michael began to get bullied about the way he spoke.
At age four, he already felt isolated from other children at preschool.
“He was finding it difficult to express his needs, making him easily frustrated and over-tired by the end of the day,” says Anele.
Michael’s inability to express himself and learn at the same pace as his peers impacted negatively on his wellbeing. They feared their son’s transition to primary school coming up in July 2017 would prove even more difficult.
“Seeing him struggling was really painful.”
A local rehab service provided an alternative closer to home, but the family could not afford it.
Moving from Mangere to Manurewa, Anele met Ane Sin, The Fono South’s Whanau Ora Navigator based in the Halver Road clinic.
Ane explained the Whanau Ora services available to families and advised Anele to get a quote for private therapy; it was approved within two days.
“It was so overwhelming and exciting,” beams Anele,
“The speech therapy was one-on-one and catered towards Michael’s development.”
Therapy changed and expanded Michael’s language and coping skills dramatically.
“With the use of building blocks, he would learn through play,” says Anele.
The family were given tools and homework to take home to help Michael improve his language skills.”
With six months of private speech therapy, Michael’s development is greatly improved - his latest developmental assessment showed he had reached the level of his peers.
“It’s really amazing for our family, just a huge relief that he’s got those skills to communicate,” says Anele, who has since been able to access The Fono’s dental services through Whanau Ora.
“I’m just very appreciative of the support I’ve got through Ane, and the funding from Whanau Ora. If we didn’t get it, we’d still be struggling,” she says.
“I just feel very thankful for The Fono’s services and support. I hope this story encourages others in similar circumstances to approach the service for help.”
All too happy to talk about his progress, young Michael answers questions clearly and confidently – portraying an excitement to begin primary school later this year.
When asked about his favourite part of speech therapy and his time with speech therapist Laura was, he beams as he replies, “Building blocks!”
More information about the Fono:
The Fono provides affordable services including medical, dental, pharmacy, health promotion, social services, education and Whanau Ora. They deliver a combination of these services across five locations. With combined experience of five separate clinics stretching over 80 years, The Fono aims to be a leader in health for the people who need it the most, fostering well, safe, vibrant and informed communities.
Click here to view The Fono’s website