When Eli was around 12 years old, I asked him if he remembers being told by his therapists that “it was okay to stutter.” He said no, he was never told that. He followed up with:
“I stopped talking as much because they said it was wrong.”
I know for a fact he had been told “it’s okay to stutter” quite often by all of his therapists. I believe that he doesn’t remember because the real message he was getting through all the focus on changing how he talked far outweighed the thin ribbon of “it’s really okay” woven into his therapy. Most children simply do not have the maturity level to filter, to reason, to get beyond their desires to please adults and to fit in with the world around them.
This may even be harder for children who stutter. There has been much deliberation in the field of stuttering around the theory that people who stutter have higher perfectionistic tendencies than those who do not. Last week I focused on putting Eli “in charge” which followed postings on listening, eye contact, keeping them talking, and shift the focus. This week I’ll focus on making it “okay to mess up.”
As I mentioned before, our “therapy” with the maverick cowboy, Dr. Jerry Halvorson, centered around having Eli visit his ranch and do ranch-like stuff. We would occasionally bring lunch with us, usually Subway sandwiches. As we all sat down around the table I would inevitably fall into my mothering role, saying things like “napkin, not your sleeve please,” and “pick up that lettuce you’re strewing all over the floor,” and “don’t make such a mess,” and “put your plate in the garbage” and so on and so on.
One day Dr. Halvorson pulled me aside and said “you’ve got to lighten up Mom!” Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression, as my parenting reputation tends to be pretty laid back, (sometimes even comatose), but I could see his point. I had to let Eli mess things up a bit, had to let him know that it was okay to make a mess with his Subway sandwich, and it was also okay to make a mess of his talking by stuttering.
We are still working on melting away the anxiety that had been layered on with each long trip to speech therapy and each “special time,” but I see the sense in beginning with lettuce strewn on the table, letting him use his sleeve as a napkin, and in his enthusiasm for getting out to feed the horses, forgetting to put his plate in the garbage. You’ve got to start somewhere… keep them talking and keep talking fun!
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours, and once again, thank you for your interest.
Doreen Lenz Holte