Evan Gardner ’20GCCPS

Evan Gardner and Austin filming a young woman on a couch talk for a documentary

Finding Our Voice

Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to speak. Children with an apraxia diagnosis generally have a good understanding of language and know what they want to say. However, they have difficulty learning or carrying out the complex sequenced movements that are necessary for intelligible speech. Evan Gardner ’20GCCPS, Video Production Manager in St. John’s University’s Office of Marketing and Communications, was diagnosed with it as a child.

For his master’s thesis in International Communication, Mr. Gardner crafted a documentary that not only charts his life with apraxia, but also the experiences of others—all done to draw attention to a relatively unknown condition. The film, Finding Our Voice, shares the many success stories of people diagnosed with apraxia and the resources at their disposal.

“I had been looking to do a documentary for quite some time, and it felt like the perfect moment,” Mr. Gardner recently said.

Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Mass Communication in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, was Mr. Gardner’s instructor and gave him permission to film a documentary rather than write a standard thesis.

“Evan’s commitment to excellence is commendable,” Dr. Monteiro stressed. “His documentary was eye opening for me, as it featured a condition I never knew existed. Evan worked diligently and methodically to present his thesis visually, and I am so glad his work is getting national attention and becoming a valuable tool for public education.”

It has been an official selection at film festivals across the US, such as the Oneota Film Festival, Disorder: The Rare Disease Film Festival, YoFiFest: the Yonkers Film Festival, Queen City Cinephiles, the Long Island International Film Expo, and the Chain NYC Film Festival. Distributed by Films Media Group, the film is available to all universities and nonprofits. “The deal was a direct result of all of the attention it received at the festivals,” Mr. Gardner said.

“I knew I had apraxia, but I never really understood it,” Mr. Gardner observed. “It was a great opportunity for me to learn about it, so it is an educational piece with my personal story as well.”

In the film, Mr. Gardner interviews his mother about his early childhood and then transitions to the stories of children and their families struggling with apraxia today. Also interviewed are speech pathologists with extensive experience treating children diagnosed with apraxia.

Mr. Gardner found his subjects through Apraxia Kids, the leading nonprofit organization providing support to children with apraxia and their families. He noted that the families he spoke with were happy to share their stories and let other families know there is hope and that they are not alone.

There is a much greater understanding of apraxia today, Mr. Gardner noted, adding that it was not an official diagnosis until the mid-1980s. Born in 1992, he spoke to several of his contemporaries, and their stories provide a roadmap of hope for children with apraxia today.

“One of the young adults I interviewed in the film was given free treatment by UCLA’s Speech Pathology Clinic because she was the first child they ever saw with apraxia. She was literally number one. It is still relatively new in the speech pathology world, but things are much better. Still, there is much to be done.”

On August 5, Mr. Gardner is hosting an online charity event in which participants can stream Finding Our Voice for a suggested donation of $10 . All proceeds will be donated to the Sunnyside Mosaic Church Food Pantry in Sunnyside, Queens, the town where Mr. Gardner resides. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, demand at the pantry has been high, and Mr. Gardner hopes the event will help him give something back to his local community.

“My goal is for as many people to see the film as possible,” Mr. Gardner reflected. The people he interviewed demonstrate that the problems apraxia present are only a piece of their life’s puzzle. “I took this journey to give a voice to those who struggle to make theirs heard—but they ended up giving me a voice of my own.”