“The King’s Speech” continues to win awards and to put stuttering on the mass media radar. Anyone who is touched by this issue has to be thrilled that the movie has done so much to increase awareness about a challenge that has been historically met with confusion and uncertainty by both listeners and people who stutter.
Radio hosts who know little about this issue will inevitably ask about what causes stuttering. Those being interviewed, usually a speech therapist, respond with the fact that we really don’t know, but they are quick to state that parents don’t cause stuttering. (Whenever I hear those assurances I have flashes of the time I dropped Buzz Light Year on his head while cleaning his room or the day he took a big swig of my vodka thinking it was water. I am absolved!) But wait a minute – they asked about what causes stuttering, not what makes it worse. While I don’t believe Eli’s stutter had anything to do with Buzz or vodka (or the buzz he might have gotten from the vodka), I do think that as a parent I was and still am greatly empowered to have an impact, negative or positive, on the progression or regression of his stuttering behavior.
Eli once asked, in tears and frustration, “Why does my spa spaaaaaaaaeech haf to be da da da da faaaaaaaaaocus of everything? I wanted so much to fix him, not because I think my children need to be perfect, but because I, as any parent, didn’t want Eli to experience the pain and frustration of having to go through life with this challenge. I vowed to never give up on finding the right resource that would make this all better for him.
Yet with all we were doing, his struggle only intensified. Long drives to weekly speech therapy sessions, daily practice sessions to help him learn speech techniques intended to lessen his struggle, and constant assurances that it was okay to stutter only resulted in a neck-twisting, growling behavior to get a word out and increasing silence. Instead of questioning what we were doing, I assumed, at least for a period of time, that he would have even been worse had we not put forth all this effort.
We are clueless as to what caused Eli to stutter – but we are now not so clueless as to what caused the relentless progression towards silence. All that focus on his speech made him fight harder to not stutter, and only served to increase tension around speaking. We parents can have a tremendous impact on the course of this mysterious affliction – and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can empower ourselves to impact that course in a positive way.
It’s not easy to accept the idea that the resources we accessed may have actually done more harm than good. But we learn and we grow, and since that’s exactly what we want for our children, this is an opportunity to be wonderful role model. Not sure who said this, but I have it posted on the wall in my office – “There’s nothing harder to let go of than a bad idea.” It takes courage to change directions and choose a different path. For the sake of kids who stutter, we all need to find that courage and find a better way. Next week I will share more of the changes we made that helped Eli to let go of his fear and lessen his struggle to speak. Until then – thanks for listening!
Doreen Lenz Holte