Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Advice for Parents with Children who Stutter

I am writing this in response to a question a mother posted on my recent blog entry about my video log on YouTube. She was kind enough to comment and wanted to know of my personal advice to parents with a child who stutters. Her little boy is five years of age and, like me, had (has) a severe stutter at that age. You can see her blog and her beautiful children here: (my Mac won't create a link, unfortunately)

The first piece of advice I will give not make it a big deal AROUND him, if you know what I mean. If a parent doesn't make a big deal out of it...he won't make as big a deal out of it. If he was like me...he's already aware of it and it's a source of frustration for him. If handled the wrong way by a well-meaning, but misguided could lead to some serious self-esteem issues very quickly. This was my case, unfortunately. My parents had no idea how to address stuttering and thought it was my fault...and tried all manner of directions to me to get me to stop.

"Son, talk slower. Slooooow down, okay? No, slow down. Think about what you are saying before you say it. Calm down! Stop talking so fast! Son, you can solve your own problem. Slow it down a bit!"

I say it was my parents, but the truth is, my mother left me when I was 3 and this was when my stutter first appeared. I stopped talking altogether for about 3 months. My grandmother took me to a child psychologist and when I began talking again, I not only had a severe stutter...but also an imaginary friend who lived under the kitchen table named "Amos". My stutter is still with me...but Amos made his departure not many years later.

My mother's first husband raised me until I was 10 and his method of trying to cure my stutter was to hit me in the stomach if I stuttered. He truly thought it was my doing and thought a little firm-hand training would do the trick. Unfortunately for me, it didn't work at all and only made it much worse. He stopped doing it once he learned that it wasn't working. I think he would have been much more suited to raising cobras than children.

Second, I would research long and hard before throwing your child into therapy of any kind. Again, the wrong therapist who doesn't understand stuttering and the emotional baggage it carries can create self-esteem issues with the child. You don't want him to feel he is "flawed" or "defective". I would personally interview any therapist you might consider to find out exactly what sort of methods he or she employs.

Again, unfortunately for me, I was placed in "school" speech therapy with a speech therapist who knew very little about the affliction. I would be removed from class twice a week to sit with her in an empty room, talking along with a metronome. Amazingly enough, it worked! I never stuttered once when the metronome was on and I spoke along with it. However, since I wasn't able to carry on normal conversations while speaking to a metronome, my stutter didn't go away outside of the therapy sessions and the therapy sessions only served to make me feel damaged...flawed...weird. A freak.

After watching my videos, you might think that life is great for me and that I'm very fluent...and those things are mostly true. However, don't be fooled by what you see. I am able to adaquately mask my stutter to a very large degree. As I said, most don't even know I stutter until they talk with me for more than 5 minutes. With the videos, I can capture very eloquent moments and edit out the stuttering. That's why my vids are never just straight through...they are pieced together. I have lots of unedited footage that I discard. Mostly, the methods I use to hide the stutter are:

1. Exhaling all the air out of my diaphram in order to force a word out. I can do this so subtetly that usually NOBODY is the wiser. However, if I do it too much, I come away from a conversation very fatigued in my abdomen and in my mind. It's very tiring doing that.

2. Faking introspection. I pretend to think of what I'm saying and pretend to pause to search for a word...when really I'm at a bad block. I would stutter pretty badly if not for this method. This works pretty darn good most of the time...unless I'm pausing in a place that nobody else would pause. "I was wondering if you think this shirt matches my.............pants".

Most people at that point would have completed my sentence for me, probably wondering why I paused.

Talking on the phone to friends and family is the worst. The worst. I avoid the phone at all cost and often get angry and frustrated when talking to my mother. She still gives the same stupid advice. "Son, just slow down, calm down. Don't stress." She means well, but has no idea what it's like. My son will sometimes find it funny when I get that way. Kids. :)

Recently, I was at a job interview and had no idea that the job required me to read from a script. It wasn't a telemarketing job, but part of my managerial responsibilities was to attend to a customer service issue...and they wanted to see how I would do reading from a script. It was a pure NIGHTMARE. They must have thought I was insane. They must have wondered why my interview went very well UNTIL I began to read...and then could never complete a sentence. You see, I didn't stutter...instead, I would just stop when a block arose. I would NOT stutter, because I was too embarrassed. Instead, I just kept apolozing for being nervouse.

Of course, they didn't call me back for another interview. Don't worry, I got a great job as an Inventory Manager for a book company. Better job, anyway and no script reading. :)

I think the most difficult thing for me today is not being able to say what I want, when I want to say it. I am a big talker by nature...and have a great sense of humor and I honestly think I would have made a great stand up comic...except that I cannot be spontaneous enough for it. And I absolutely refuse to integrate stuttering into my routine. I wish for the eloquence of Ellen Degeneres or Jay Leno or Robin Williams. I often think of (what I think are) clever funny lines to things people say...but can't say I keep silent. The few times I've attempted to tell a joke...the way I have delivered the punchline makes everyone forget the point of the joke to begin with. Thus...I turned my eloquence to writing. I enjoy writing probably more than anything.

Anyway, I've turned this more into a post about ME than about advice...but if at least one thing I said was of any help or illumination...then I'm satisfied. And of course, I can always write more later. :)


Stacey said...

Gee. I didn't know my comment warranted an entire post. Thanks! My son's really severe stutter suddenly turned into a relatively mild stutter over the past day or so. I don't expect that to last. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when the stuttering is bad and when it gives the little guy a break. I'll enjoy being able to communicate while it lasts! It'd all be so simple if we could just avoid X or concentrate on Y, you know?

I thought your take on speech therapy was interesting too. My son isn't in kindergarten yet, so he's in the school district's preschool speech program. He's got a private therapist too...because the red tape to get into the district took so long to get through. Fortunately, he *loves* therapy. I don't know if it really helps his speech at all, but he likes the one-on-one attention, at least. I figure we'll just stop the minute he starts to hate it. It's bound to happen.

I'm worried about the therapist at his elementary school. We had to go to her for the initial screen to get him into the preschool program and she didn't have a *clue* about stuttering. She's told me several times that she really doesn't see any stutterers. She ought to have fun next year since I know one of the other kindergarteners also stutters! Ergh. I'll have to be sure I yank him out of that if it's not working for him on some level.

Knowing a little about your life, I feel like my son's got some things going for least he's got two parents who have done their homework on stuttering and how to deal with it. It's good to hear that advice (don't say 'slow down', don't say 'take a breath') repeated by someone who really *knows* though!

I can't imagine blaming a 5-year-old for a speech problem. These days, it seems more like people want to blame the parents we don't have enough ways to screw up our kids, huh?

Law Student said...

You're right in that it seems we've gone in the other direction and blame parents for everything and don't hold kids accountable enough. Obviously, that doesn't apply to stutterers, but you get the point. :)

It seems you have the right idea with your son and will likely do well for him. I'm glad he likes his therapist...I think for me, most of the self esteem damage was already in place...thus any attention that was placed on stuttering only served to exacerbate the problem. I think parents and schools are more enlightened these days.

I would definitely keep a close watch on how the school therapist deals with your son. If she has no experience with stuttering, I'd watch exactly what she does and says to your son.

With luck, your son's stutter may just be a phase! :)

Jack said...

My husband was adopted into a dysfunctional family and the divorce was a divorce for the adopted children as well--abandoned by his "dad." Like you, our family life did fall far from the "apple tree." We are grateful for a better 2nd half of life, and the sensitivity burned in by the 1st half to see needs where others might see only the exterior of a kid in distress.

Back to stuttering. Our son had a severe stuttering problem by the time he was 4. We had him go for speech therapy for about 6-9 months, then we moved. He did not want to go back to therapy because they wanted him to be perfect. What that 9 months did was: made his stuttering milder, had my husband and I realize how HARD it is to change a speech pattern--we were supposed to try to slow down our speech and COULD NOT do it "naturally" only with concentrated effort for a short time, let our son lead when he wanted to go for therapy and when not to go, had us choose a small private school for elementary years (no being made fun of, accepted, given time to talk).
When he did get speech therapy in school (public middle school) it was infrequent, primarily to have the SLP consult with teachers. We now have a weekly arrangement at school because they have purchased a "Fluency Master" for him and it is necessary/ part of the deal. I have searched since moving to our current state, for specialists in stuttering--this time we found a great fit with a SLP through the commission for children with special health care needs. The bonus--no cost to us, it is via a sliding scale. A specialist, and a good fit is better than free and a wrong fit.
The most important part of this stream of in and out therapy is that our son is willing to talk.

MommaWriter said...

So, here's a question for you you, SS, or anyone else who feels like commenting... I don't know if this is true, but I've assumed that most stutterers (fluency-challenged individuals? : ) have variable fluency at different times in their lives. As you get older, are you able to predict when your fluency will get worse? Does it really feel like a reaction to some kind of emotional stress or does it seem more random than that.

It seems natural, as a parent, to try to figure out what makes your child's speech better or worse, but it seems like an exercise in futility. I do it more "for fun" than because I think I'll really learn anything.

Gavin's fluency is still on the "much better" side after a week, but that doesn't mean he's speaking in a way that's natural for other people. At least he can get through sentences...lots of them! And we can understand him!

Law Student said...

I have found that my fluency has gotten worse lately...but when I do my YouTube vids...I can use my very affected voice...which makes it all but disappear, if you notice. Still, I have difficult times, which is why they are so heavily edited.

I seem to have more trouble these days than even 3 years ago.

MommaWriter said...

I'll take that to mean you don't really know what makes your fluency better at times than others...besides the obvious, like job interviews and telephone calls. Nothing obvious that's made speaking harder over the last 3 years, right?

kkatie_ellen said...

I use those methods as well... sometimes it doesn't really work though. I block VERY badly and people just think that I stopped talking to them (haha).

Anyway I'm going to Ohio State University to be a speech pathologist because of my school "therapist" who knew nothing. I knew what that was like... and wanted to punch her in the face every day.

Anonymous said...

I'm finding it impossible to have a simple question answered, my 2 year old has started stuttering and she tries SO hard to say "You" but can't, she turns red in the face and tenses herself up and throws her head back.

She can talk very well and knows every word you or I know, she started talking very early. After reading up on stuttering, I say nothing at all to her when she struggles like this, I just wait. Recently I asked her to change her word, that helped but I sensed she was embarrassed somehow and that its a personal challenge for her that she WANTS to say "you" and not avoid it. Other than the "you" she is perfectly fluent, and she says "U" in the alphabet perfectly too, except when we've asked her to try the alphabet U instead of "you" she gets mad, because it worked like magic the first couple of times but now she says "NO! I don't want to say that!", she wants to say "you" and will not stop at trying, she gets mad at herself.

I just need SOME kind of advice. Should I tell her to stop for a second (so she doesn't faint from lack of air)? Should I keep saying nothing at all and watch her turn purple? Should I help her learn to avoid the word "you"? It is the only word that causes such a blockage. Anyway, I'm not ready for therapy because my daughter gets upset at people telling her what to do, or how to fix something she's doing (it's her terrible two's reaction, if you try to help her with a puzzle piece, anything).

I'm hoping she does outgrow it, but the more she forces herself to try to say a "you", the more it gets blocked, and she's her worst enemy and won't stop trying till you think she's going to puke or something. Is there anything other than sitting there like a bump on a log and trying to keep eye contact and "not make a big deal" out of it that I could do?

PLEASE, if you have time to reply just send me an e-mail, I haven't figured out what this google account is all about, I just came upon this blog. Thank you.

AA said...

Nice post.

I used to (and sometimes still) try the avoidance behaviours you mentioned. Ironically I found that following the advice of parents (slow down, think about what you want to say etc) has over the years helped me immensely (although not at the time!). I agree though, mostly the advice is unhelpful, and I learned to control my speech (mostly) through my own efforts. Its probably the way parents give the advise to the child that matters most, and at the same time not making a big deal of it. Speech therapy didn't help me, since I would instantly increase my stutter as soon as I left the building.

dspurgeon said...

What a wonderful article to read, I appreciate your honesty and advice. If you don't mind me asking a question I was wondering if speech therapy helped you as you grew up or if you pretty much discovered your own strategies for dealing with the challenges of stuttering?