Parents find toddler’s speech progress through Early On program rewarding

Brian and JoAnne Zawislak with their son, Lev.

Brian and JoAnne Zawislak with their son, Lev.

The goal for Lev seemed daunting: learn 50 words within a year.

The 14-month-old toddler wasn’t even saying “da da,” and the only way he communicated with his parents was by screaming, crying or whining.

“During dinnertime, that was when we really saw his frustration,” said Brian Zawislak, Lev’s father. “If he wanted something, he couldn’t tell us what he wanted. We couldn’t even get him to communicate when he was playing. We just were not getting a whole lot of sounds from him.”

However, with the help of Oakland Family Services’ Early On program, Lev not only met his goal of speaking 50 words within a year but also exceeded it, an accomplishment his parents are thrilled to see. Early On provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers, birth to three years of age, with developmental delays or conditions that could lead to a delay.

With Lev, his parents noticed he wasn’t developing at the same rate as his older sisters, Brynn, 8, and Mia, 5.

“He was really struggling with his fine motor skills,” said Brian, an assistant principal at Troy High School. “He couldn’t put one block on top of another block. We noticed with his speech that he was making some noises and thought his speech was coming along, but then it seemed like he was digressing and going backward.”

Brian, and his wife, JoAnne, contacted Early On for an evaluation that determined Lev had a significant language delay and a mild fine motor delay. Early On Service Coordinator Lisa Brady began working with the family, visiting their home monthly.

“Our focus last September was to help Lev increase his vocabulary and to use words to express his wants and needs instead of whining, yelling and pointing,” she explained. “We worked on his expressive speech and soon he was speaking and communicating more effectively and not yelling during meals. At his most recent developmental assessment, he was demonstrating above average communication skills!”

Brian and JoAnne learned different techniques that helped Lev with his speech, such as signing, using repetition of select words and making sounds with toys or other objects they showed Lev.

“Every toy or animal had sound with it and he really took to all those sounds and before we knew it we couldn’t get him to be quiet," Brian explained. “If I hold a little pig and put it by my mouth and he sees me saying it, he can associate it. Those are the things Lisa taught us we never thought of. She would model it and play with him for an hour. Watching her interact with him was a really powerful model for us to see.

“To see him progress so fast was rewarding,” he said. “As educators, both my wife and I know the power of early intervention is so critical. If we waited, he would not be where he is right now. Some people scoffed at us when he got him evaluated at 14 months old but within six months, he not only caught up but also was exceeding what a 20-month-old should be doing at that point. We can’t thank Lisa and the Early On program enough."

For more information about the Early On program, contact our Early Childhood Service Specialist at (248) 858-7766 ext. 1209, or by email at or go to the Oakland County School district for more information. You also can complete an assessment online at