Signs of speech

Friday, December 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marcus Leech is learning to break free from the isolated world of autism.

Every day is a challenge for 8-year-old Marcus as he struggles to communicate when he’s hungry or tired, said his mother, Kaori Leech.

“He gets very frustrated that I don’t understand him, and it’s frustrating for me, too. I always have to ask him to show me what he wants,” she said.


Marcus Leech, 8, guides his psychologist Dr. Alyce Elburn’s hand to his favorite book about signs. Dr. Elburn visits Marcus’ home each week on Mondays to help him with speaking and behavior skills. After visiting Marcus for almost a year, she has noticed positive changes in his behavior and increased communication with his family

and teachers.

After nearly three years of therapy and counseling, Marcus and his mother are beginning to see signs of improvement in his ability to communicate.

They’re not alone in recognizing the improvements. Angie Eckman, a special education teacher at Derby Ridge Elementary, has been working with Marcus for two years.

“He tries to communicate a lot more now, even though his speech is still the first syllable,” she said. “He never gets angry or screams.”


Kaori Leech gently touches Marcus to calm him as he reads a Toys ‘R’ Us magazine. Diagnosed with autism disorder, Marcus is often hyperactive and difficult to calm. ‘I rub his back to relax him,’ she says. ‘It usually calms him pretty fast.’

Kaori said that even though Marcus is progressing in his ability to feel comfortable around people and communicate, she still has concerns about Marcus’ ability to speak. She says that no matter the outcome, she is proud of her son.

“You can just see that he tries really hard,” she said.

Boone County Group Homes helped Marcus and his mother by providing him with a babysitter for 30 hours a month and a weekly visit from a psychologist.

Kaori says the services have been valuable in helping Marcus’ progress. The programs have allowed her time to seek a degree in special education at MU.

As a single mother raising Marcus and his 5-year-old sister, Kaori has little extra money for babysitter services and therapy.

“I found the answer at Boone County Group Homes,” she said. “He can make more sounds than he could before.

“He almost talks too much now, even though I don’t always understand what he is saying,” she said.

She then smiles and adds that words are not always necessary in a relationship between a mother and son. “He doesn’t need to always talk, because when he hugs me really soft, I can feel he loves me.”

Wish Box

GROUP: Boone County Group Homes and Family Support in a joint project with the Department of Mental Health

SUMMARY: Although each case has an individual plan, Marcus’ mother is provided with a caseworker for support. Often the support comes from parents of children with disabilities as well. They also are provided with “respite care” services, which offers 30 hours of paid babysitting, and a weekly visit from a psychologist.

CONTACT: Robyn Kaufman, 874-1995

WISH: Monetary, food, clothing or furniture donations. Marcus and family would like any type of toy with a street sign — Marcus’

favorite toy.

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