When Eli was 12, I asked him if he remembered being told by his therapists that “it was okay to stutter.” He said no, he was never told that. I know for a fact he had been told this — several times by several therapists. All he remembers is that he was expected to use his techniques to avoid speech errors. Research for my upcoming book “Voice Unearthed” unearthed many voices warning of potential risks to focusing on eliminating speech errors. Yet these voices are not readily accessible, especially to those making the decisions about if, when, and what type of therapy a child will receive including parents and even speech therapists.

In the “Short Report; Is it Possible for Speech Therapy to Improve Upon Natural Recovery Rates in Children Who Stutter?” (Kalinowski, J.; Saltuklaroglu, T.; Dayalu, V.; Guntupalli, V.; 2005 International Journal of Language Communication Disorders), a volcano analogy is used:

“We have been impeded by the misguided faith, faith in the reality of the ‘units’ of stuttering…the ‘units’ are the smoke…stopping the smoke does not stop the volcano.”

In order to prepare for his role in “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth says

“I tried to play it as the character would be experiencing it, which is to try not to do it. The sheer physical effort that requires had an effect on my whole body, and while shooting The King’s Speech I suffered from headaches.”

Sounds like Firth, as an actor, tapped into the essence behind trying to cap the volcano and it worked.”

The late Joseph Sheehan, an eminent speech and language therapist who also stuttered, used an iceberg analogy:

“The part above the surface, what people see and hear, is really the smaller part. By far the larger part is the part underneath, the shame, the fear, the guilt, all those other feelings that we have when we try and speak a simple sentence and can’t. Like me you have probably tried to keep as much of that iceberg under the surface as possible….”

Russ Hicks, past president of the Dallas Chapter of the National Stuttering Association and national “Member of the Year in 2000” takes Sheehan’s analogy a step further…

“What if we had a giant blowtorch and quickly blasted the top off the iceberg? It would have a flat top, right? Then what would happen? As ice is less dense than water, the iceberg would slowly rise out of water again to maintain that 10/90 above/below ratio. (Thank you Archimedes!) Unfortunately with stuttering that’s where the analogy is slightly off. When you blast off the top, in stuttering you typically make the bottom even bigger. Take off the 10% above, add at least 15% below. You now have a stutterer who’s failed. He (or she) didn’t work hard enough. He didn’t care enough. He just isn’t smart enough. Lazy, doesn’t care, stupid… guilt, anger, shame… the bottom of the iceberg has just grown even bigger. Not only does he now stutter – AGAIN – but he’s got even MORE emotional baggage down below. Been there, done that. No fun. Do that enough times, and you’ve created a monstrous lifetime problem.”

The blow torch aimed at Eli’s speech errors served to melt the thin ribbon of “it’s really okay” woven into his therapy. Capping off the volcano or blasting off the tip of the iceberg only adds to the emotional baggage that feeds stuttering. Let’s focus instead on a risk-free plan to keeping kids talking.