Mar. 13—On a recent afternoon, Stacy Anderson and her 5-year-old daughter, Mirielle, were baking cookies together at home.
At one point, Stacy said, Mirielle leaned over, gave her a hug and said, "I love my mommy."
It'd be a sweet moment for any parent, but it was all the more meaningful for Stacy because she had never heard her daughter say those words to her before. For the past year-and-a-half, Mirielle has been seeing speech, occupational and physical therapists at Ascension Via Christi's Therapy Center, working on building up her speaking and social skills, as well as physical strength.
"I just bawled," Stacy said of the moment. "I mean we know we love each other, but just to hear that as a mom (from a child) at age five is pretty late, so it was special."
Stacy said she and her husband had noticed developmental delays as Mirielle grew up, and she didn't speak or walk much until she was almost two. They had her evaluated through the Manhattan-Ogden school district, which qualified her for the individualized education plan and allowed her to start preschool early and work with different therapists.
When they first started coming to the therapy center, Stacy said Mirielle would maybe say about 20 words. Now, when she's comfortable and around people she's familiar with, she won't stop talking, and her favorite thing to say is "big hug."
Peggy Wiens, Mirielle's speech therapist, said she's watched her open up and "blossom," even teasing her at times during sessions.
"When (Mirielle) first started coming in she was using one-syllable words," Wiens said. "Like 'Up,' even that was hard to get out for her, but she's using longer phrases now and more complex words. We're still working on multisyllabic words and some of the harder ones and just increasing her speech intelligibility overall, just so everyone can understand her. We're actually shifting our focus a little bit on some of the language aspects that she needs, but she's just doing amazing."
The therapy center recently acquired the adjacent building space in the Plaza de Maria shopping area — where Academy Sports and Five Below are located — in east Manhattan and opened up its new therapy gym for children at 451 East Poyntz Ave. about three weeks ago.
Wiens said staffers advocated for separate spaces for adult and child patients to be mindful of everyone's safety and varying needs. The Community Health Foundation helped purchase equipment for the gym, which is decked out with a mini playground, a swing and trampolines along with other items.
On Thursday, Mirielle climbed up the small playground wall, played a coordination game of catch with her mother and her physical therapist, Eric Melander, and swung while alternating her hand movements with her occupational therapist, Kaytee Beaver.
Melander said seeing patients like Mirielle improve and get stronger with the help of his instruction is rewarding.
"I think it's cool to see them get better under their own power, like that's their work they put in," he said.
Stacy said she is appreciative of the "amazing" progress Mirielle has made since arriving at the center.
"(We're) extremely grateful for this," she said. "The services that are offered here, we're very fortunate to be able to come here and take advantage of it all."