In my last post about our reaction to “The King’s Speech,” I refer to Raisa Gorbachev’s quote “childhood is but a spark…..” I love that quote. Kids should sparkle. Sparks burn out and new ones ignite, over and over again – at least that’s how it is for my three boys (ages 14, 19 and 19). These sparks, some past, some present, include horses, Pokemon, Legos, fencing, guitar, Halo, art, Colbert, reading, theater, aliens, Conan, astronomy, and the list goes on and on.
What does this have to do with stuttering? Everything. We found the quickest way to dim a spark is to fuel it with pressure and expectations. I am forever having those flashes – one kid shows an interest in art and my mind lands on Piccasso — another looks up at the stars and I have a future astronomer. Eli has an afternoon without stuttering, and I envision a future with perfect speech.
We have learned over the years that our boys sparkle most, not when they have become perfect in something, but when they engage enthusiastically in the world around them (if you can get them to unplug – a whole ‘nother subject). When children who stutter are imbued with the expectation of making fewer speech errors, they will often choose to not speak rather than fail. It’s no different than imbuing a child with the expectation of getting A’s in math. If they love math and find math to be fairly easy, they will do well. If they struggle with math and don’t like it, they may fail, or they may still get A’s, but they will take any chance they get to NOT engage in math-type activities. When children struggle with speaking and continually experience perceived failure, they may still speak perfectly on occasion, but they will take any chance they get to NOT have to experience that feeling of failure. Can we blame them?
Several years ago I was teaching a writing class at our home school cooperative. Eli was in the class, and we were “brainstorming.” Kids were yelling out ideas and I was writing them on the board. All of a sudden I noticed Eli was in tears. “Honey, what’s wrong?” (you can sometimes get away with that “honey” stuff with a small home school group).
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhheee cah cah cah cah can’t get a chah chah chah chance to talk!”
I felt terrible. Fighting to keep back my own tears, I switched to turn-taking, and held myself together. Later that day, I called our maverick speech therapist, Dr. Jerry Halvorson, and asked, now letting the tears spill, how should I have handled the situation and should I be doing clean-up?
He laughed and yelled “Hooray for Eli – he spoke up!”
It took me a few minutes to get beyond his disregard for my state of anguish, but once I wrapped my mind around his reaction, I realized he was so right. If Eli had sat quietly amidst all the other yelling kids, I most likely would not have noticed – and so much would have been lost. Lesson learned. Keep the spark lit… keep them talking!