At age two, Ben Schley loved tractors, but he had trouble pronouncing the word.
"When he tried to say 'tractor,' it sounded more like 'gunkor,'" Ben's mom, Allison Schley, recalls. "He couldn't form the 't' sound."
That's when Allison, a nurse in Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, first suspected Ben might have a condition called tongue-tie.
Her suspicion grew when Ben's day care provider mentioned that Ben had difficulty mirroring her funny faces and sticking his tongue out.
"Typically, when children open their mouths, their tongues pop out. Ben's would curl down," Allison says.
That's when she decided to bring Ben to Mayo Clinic for a tongue-tie evaluation.
Allison started by visiting her children's otolaryngologist, who referred Ben to a colleague specializing in frenectomies, a surgical procedure to release tongue ties.
Ben was seen for a consult, during which the doctor ordered an audiogram to ensure hearing was not a concern. The audiogram revealed some fluid in the ear, so the doctor recommended Ben have tubes placed at the same time as the frenotomy.
The procedures took only about 20 minutes together, but recovery came with some hurdles.
"Ben couldn't feel his tongue because of the numbing medication used in the frenotomy and was biting it, causing bleeding," Allison recalls. "For a couple of days, he refused to eat or drink due to the pain."
When Ben fully recovered, Allison monitored him for improvements in his speech. Unfortunately, he was still having trouble forming sounds that other children his age had mastered, and he was becoming secluded.
"As he was getting older, he was still making mistakes. Family members would tell me they had a hard time understanding him," Allison says. "We were also concerned because his day care provider said he didn't play with anyone other than his twin sister."
The surgery had set him up for success, but there was more work to do to help him advance and improve his speech.
Allison determined that the next step for Ben was a speech evaluation.
An initial visit and evaluation by Mayo Clinic's speech pathology team yielded a "wait and see" approach, but after several months without progress, they determined Ben needed to start speech classes.
Ben started speech classes in October 2021 and still attends today. Through that time, he's made remarkable progress.
When Ben first started classes, he was apprehensive.
"He didn't like that we were putting him on the spot and making him practice something he wasn't good at," Allison says. "He would shut down and not participate."
But Ben's speech pathologist, Taylor Brown, persisted, and he broke out of his shell after a couple of months.
"One day, I told Ben he was a big boy and could start working with Ms. Taylor alone. That's when we really started seeing progress," Allison says. "He could work harder with her and focus better without me in the room. She completely gained his trust and made it so fun for him."
Slowly, Ben's speech started improving, and others took notice.
"People started commenting that Ben was opening up more, and they could understand him," Allison says.
The following year, Allison says, is when she noticed the most significant difference — not only in Ben's speech but also in his confidence.
"He is getting invited to birthday parties and approaching other kids to ask if they want to play," Allison says. "I've noticed other day care kids hug him goodbye and say, 'See you tomorrow.' He also tells me stories and sings a lot more."
This means everything to Allison as a mom.
Allison is proud of Ben for finding his voice and thanks his Mayo Clinic care team, especially "Ms. Taylor," for helping him along the way.
"It has been so rewarding to watch him grow, and we couldn’t have done it without her expertise, patience and guidance to get him there," Allison says.
"I think she saw so much potential in him and gave him the confidence he needed," she says. "Words can't express how grateful we are for her. I feel like she was hand-picked just for him."
With Ben's newly discovered confidence, Allison knows he can do anything he puts his mind to.
"I'm just so happy for him," Allison says.
Tags: Patient Stories