April 27, 2021

Roger Albrecht works on his walking in a gait trainer with his physical therapists, McKenzie Vermeire, PT, DPT, at Mankato Clinc Pediatric Therapy Services.

When Roger Albrecht, 3, comes to Mankato Clinic Pediatric Therapy Services twice a week, he has big smiles for the staff. His speech language pathologist sits on a kid-size chair at Roger’s level as they work with flash cards to help Roger choose between eating Cheerios or blowing bubbles.

Roger may be nonverbal, but he’s very expressive and social.

Roger was born with Cri du chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which a variable portion of chromosome 5 is missing. The syndrome causes developmental disabilities in eating, speaking, sitting and walking. At age 3, Roger is learning to walk.

His mom, Lynae Albrecht, has joined the sessions today. Lynae is catching up on Roger’s progress and learning more ways to help him at home.

“You can tell that Roger has progressed. His mobility is improved. He is more active now. Before he didn’t really move a whole lot. We’re trying to get him to walk and use his arms more. He’s more dexterous. He picks up toys and he’s using his legs,” Lynae said.

Roger is the youngest of four boys. While it’s hard and stressful raising a child with health issues, Lynae and Adam Albrecht said Roger has brought the family closer together.

Due to his diagnosis, Roger receives his primary care from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, which has a convenient satellite location at the Mankato Clinic Children’s Health Center. For some services, the Albrechts can go to the satellite office, close to home, in Mankato.

During the early months of the pandemic, Roger transitioned from baby to playmate. His brothers had more time to play with him and Roger bloomed with all the interaction.  

In the physical therapy room, Roger works closely with McKenzie Vermeire, PT, DPT. She sits behind him in front of the mirror as she helps him move to a standing position over and over. He also plays with a toy on a stack of mats to motivate him to stand.

“Roger is happy here and enjoys going. When he’s done he’s tired, but he’s in a good mood. He knows it’s play time too. We’re playing but we’re working,” Lynae said.

Roger practices walking in a gait trainer, a walker that bears some of his weight and offers extra posture support. One of the current goals is for Roger to independently propel the gait trainer forward so that he may interact with his environment and participate with family and friends. To cheer him on, Lynae stands at one end of the room and encourages him to walk to her. Roger does his best to reach mom.

“The gait trainer is a lot of work. He’s working every muscle in his body,” Lynae said.

Prior to seeing McKenzie, Roger spent many hours working with Heather Johnson, PT, DPT, in physical therapy.

“Roger progresses at his own rate, but he always makes steady gains.” Heather said. “Our goal and job as a physical therapist is to embrace his abilities to help him be as functional as possible. We are continuously working towards him becoming as independently mobile as he can, in whatever capacity that may be.”

Roger also works with an occupational therapist with a focus on fine motor skills such as picking up smaller toys, putting toys down instead of winging them and keeping toys from going in his mouth.

The work doesn’t stop when Roger goes home. The therapists give Lynae lots of home activities and exercises for Roger.

“It’s great to continue therapy at home. They give you exercises that fit into a living room and don’t require equipment you don’t have,” Lynae said. “Our experiences have been really spot on and great here. They have the kids’ best interests at heart.”

In one’s own time

Sometimes it takes longer to get where we are going. This is especially true in measuring progress in children with special needs.

“We meet them where they are at and we celebrate the little things. We appreciate what the kids can do and we celebrate every accomplishment big and small. We let them get there in their own time. And celebrate at their pace,” Heather explained.  “Roger’s a good kid. I’m excited to see what he will do!”

Lynae’s advice to other parents who have children with special needs: “You’ll get through it. You’ve got to take your time.”

To learn more, visit Pediatric Therapy Services.