SAN ANTONIO – A 9-year-old boy who suffers from childhood apraxia speech disorder found his voice thanks to the help of first responders.
His name is Pedro Salinas, but he goes by Moose.
“If I am walking and you are walking in front of me slowly on purpose, I will either go around you or between your legs.” Moose said, explaining how he got the nickname.
Though his sense of humor is special, and though he can now make out words, Moose’s life has been challenging because of his disorder.
“He was diagnosed with severe apraxia of speech when he was 2,” said Ashley Salinas, Moose’s mother. “It is a neurological disorder where he didn’t have the ability to pronounce syllables.”
Ashley said that, at age 2, Moose could not talk at all.
“He would just point to everything and go ‘ah’ or ‘oo,’” Ashley said.
She then started speech therapy with Moose. They had sessions five times a week and each session was 30 to 40 minutes long.
“We did that for a full year and nothing worked,” Ashley said. “No words were coming out, to where the speech therapist started teaching him sign language.”
Ashley said the process was frustrating for Moose.
“If you didn’t understand him, he would get so frustrated and throw his hands in the air and would walk away and would just shut down,” Ashley said.
She said it was devastating for her as well.
“I went through an emotional roller coaster,” Ashley said. “Why did this happen? I was sad. I was just scared. Is he ever going to speak or talk?”
Moose also dealt with other symptoms.
“Apraxia affects so much more than just a child's speech,” Ashley said. “It affects their reading, writing, facial expressions, their balance. Even potty training is difficult. Moose was so severe that he went minute to minute. One minute he could say a word, the next minute that word was gone. He couldn't say it again.”
Ashley said they also went through a series of at-home practices.
“We used magnet letters on the fridge, where he would have magnets with words and would throw them to try to get them to stick,” Ashley said. “We also did visual hand signal cues for consonants and vowels and would use a mirror to see ourselves.”
One day, when Moose was 3, something special happened.
“One day, we had the fire department outside the house and a firetruck was outside and Moose is standing outside and looking at their lights. So, as they are leaving, Moose waves at them and they honk their horn,” Ashley said.
In that moment, Ashley said, Moose did something he had never been able to do up to that point in his life.
“He (was) so excited, he nearly fell down. He was so happy, and he turns to me and goes, ‘Ba boo boo boo!’ I nearly fell down because, all of a sudden, he has a B sound. He never had that before," Ashley said.
It didn’t stop there.
“A few days later, a police officer is sitting outside our home. Next thing I know, my 3-year-old is running outside my door with a paper and a pen and he’s just running,” Ashley said. “So he gets to the officer and hands him the pen and paper and the officer doesn’t really know what to do, so he just signs it and the rest is history.”
Since that moment, Moose made it a point to collect signatures and take pictures with every first responder he meets.
“He started his own little book from first responders,” Ashley said. “After meeting all of these people, he was going back to speech therapy with his pictures, wanting to talk about the pictures and friends he was making. Next thing I know, we have words just flying out of his mouth.”
Ashley said, because first responders were the only thing he responded to, the speech therapist took advantage of Moose's collection.
“Moose didn’t want to talk about the toys or anything they had for him. He wanted to talk about the first responders,” Ashley said. “They worked with it. They were basically having to reprogram his brain to be able to use these muscles — his cheek muscles, his tongue, his jaw, everything.”
Now, at 9 years old, Moose has had a major impact on his community and on first responders.
“He did an animal food drive to collect food for pets,” Ashley said. “He collected 1,100 pounds of pet food for our local pantry.”
Moose also helped officers with cleanup after Hurricane Harvey, in addition to volunteering for handing out school supplies for back-to-school drives.
“I am so proud of him,” Ashley said. “To come from having no words, to all of a sudden speaking full sentences, being so little, pulling on my arm, always needing me to, now, he doesn’t need me that much anymore. It is amazing how much he has grown up and how confident he has become, and these first responders have no idea what they have done.”
Moose still has trouble speaking at times, but he will not let his disorder stand in the way of helping others.
“I want to be a police officer one day because they help people and our community,” Moose said.
Moose even went out of his way to write to a little boy named Logan who has the same disorder.
“He looked at him online and was, like, ‘Look, Mom. He is just like me,’” Ashley said. “I said, ‘Yes, he is just like you, but you have more words than he does.’ He said, ‘Can I write him a letter?’ I said, ‘You sure can.’”
Moose’s letter to Logan reads:
"You and me are the same. We both can’t talk right and that is okay. I want to tell you to not give up. To keep trying and one day you will be just like me. You have your family and me, and all of my friends, the police, sheriffs, and fire fighters who believe in you. Know that one day, you will beat this.
Your friend, Moose.”
When KSAT asked Moose why he wanted to write Logan a letter, he simply said, “If I can talk, he can too."
Hundreds of signatures and patches from first responders later, Moose was honored by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office for being an inspiration to first responders and to other children with disabilities like his.
Logan Drummond, who is from Seabrook, Texas, and is starting kindergarten this year, received his letter from Moose. Below is a video of his reaction to the letter:
If you know of any story like Moose’s or another of someone who is making a difference in South Texas, contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.