Ryan Witmer-Wood of Hazel Green is like any other 8-year-old boy. He loves trucks and cars, plays games like Roadblock on his tablet, and is on a baseball team.

His mother, Yvette Sharpe, said Ryan can do this and so much more, despite a rare genetic diagnosis of 3q29 microdeletion syndrome, thanks to the services they have received at UCP.

“Ryan weighed less than four pounds when he was born,” Yvette recalled. “I was a first-time mom at 39 and didn’t know where to start, so I was glad when the NICU nurses recommended Early Intervention (EI) services. Ryan was about 5 months old when he started seeing Janet.”

UCP Occupational Therapist Janet Taylor is just part of the team that has worked alongside Ryan and Yvette since 2008. Ryan also received speech and physical therapies through EI until age 3, and then transitioned to UCP’s Children’s Therapy Services program for occupational, physical, and speech therapies on an ongoing outpatient basis as needed.

“The outpatient program is great because if Ryan is struggling with a specific problem I can ask for help,” Yvette explained. “All of his UCP therapists have been very supportive and have shown me how to help him with activities that we can practice at home. I know he would still be struggling with speech, balance, and fine motor skills without their support.”

Yvette said that there are a lot of unknowns with Ryan’s diagnosis, but his biggest challenge so far has been speech delay.

“Ryan began to say a few words in kindergarten, but was basically non-verbal until first grade,” Yvette said. “He and I both were frustrated because he couldn’t communicate with words, but I was amazed at how quickly his speech caught up. It just proves that you can never underestimate your child. I really thought I’d never hear him say, ‘I love you, Mommy,’ but now I can and a lot of that has to do with his therapy and help from UCP.”

Ryan will be a third-grader this year and, although learning disabilities associated with his diagnosis have caused him to struggle with writing and math, Yvette is very proud that Ryan is almost reading at grade level.

“When his school told me that he will receive a certificate of completion instead of a regular diploma, I came home and cried,” Yvette recalled. “He has the potential to do well in school, but not everyone sees it. That’s why it’s great that we can continue with therapy at UCP. I can tell his therapists what he is struggling with and they can tell me what to work on with him. Their instructions have always been easy to follow and they are just fantastic to work with.”

In addition to EI and Children’s Therapy Services, Ryan has also participated in UCP playgroups, preschool readiness classes, summer camps, Family Connections activities, holiday events, and the HEARTS respite program.

“The preschool readiness class really helped prepare us both for when he started school,” Yvette explained. “Especially being able to be with other kids, just playing and socializing. I’m especially glad that he learned empathy for kids in different situations than him. That was big for him.”

Yvette said she is always grateful for a couple hours of respite when Ryan attends group activities at UCP.

“I know he is being taken good care of, which allows me peace of mind to run errands or even meet friends occasionally for an early lunch. As Ryan has gotten older, the activities UCP offers during the summer have been the most beneficial. He needs those opportunities to play with other kids during the summer because it’s important that he is socially ready to start school again in the fall.”

Yvette said she is always eager to share Ryan’s successes with other families.

“I was shopping one day and spotted a family who had a child with special needs. I started talking with them and learned that they had just moved here and didn’t know where to look for services. I immediately told them about UCP. They were thankful and I was glad to help.”

To learn more about all UCP programs and services, call the UCP Therapy Center at the UCP Technology and Training Center at 256-859-4900.


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