The (what I hope is) final draft of my upcoming book “Voice Unearthed” is with the editor and I’m back to my blog. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

The more a child practices piano, the better he becomes at it. The more a child practices math equations, the easier they are for him. Can’t we just continue on and say that the more a child practices speech techniques, the better he becomes at it and the easier they are for him?

How parents and speech therapists come to believe this is understandable. We spent about three years there, hook, line, and sinker. So why, over this period of time, did Eli’s struggle go from mild to moderate to severe?

“Action to decrease errors seems harmless, in fact, the right and common sense thing to do. But the damage caused by requiring perfect speech may cause a lifetime of speaking terror.” Dr. Jerry Halvorson 1

Speech therapists and parents will insist that they don’t demand “perfect” speech from these kids. In fact, they continually tell them “it’s okay to stutter.” Children simply do not have the developmental maturity to sort through these messages and keep them in perspective. What emotional complications are we risking when we imbue the expectations of decreasing speech errors by practicing speech techniques like Tigger talk, stretchy speech, turtle talk, bounces, stopping and starting over, and asking them to think about what they are going to say before they say it?

Think about a time you performed in front of an audience – whether it was playing piano, making a speech, acting on stage, or even making a toast at your sister’s wedding. Do you remember your heart racing, feeling light-headed, your mind clouding up with panic. Do you recall the embarrassment when you screwed up – the red face, the shame, the “beat yourself up” conversation you had in your mind afterwards? Recall one time when you experienced these feelings… and then imagine a child who stutters experiencing this every time, every single time, they try to talk and make a speech error. Making the error is difficult enough, but the pain is compounded by the idea that they have also failed to use those techniques that worked so well at the therapist’s office – because most often those techniques will fail them outside of the clinic setting. How often did I hear parents claim “He does so well when he’s with his therapist!” How often do I hear therapists claim success based on the performances they see in their offices. And yet, the National Stuttering Association survey given to NSA members reports an 85% relapse rate. Bill Murphy, Purdue University, states that:

“Once shame is present, it regenerates repeatedly by the child, even if the external stimulus (a parent inappropriately reminding the child to ‘use your techniques,’ or a classmate laughing) is no longer present…At some point, the speech failures and negative emotions become attached to the child’s concept of self. The self acquires the identity of failure, or at least in relationship to speaking skills.” 3

We all tell our children it’s okay to stutter. If we keep the piano playing fun and the math equations doable, chances are pretty good that the child will more readily return to engage in those activities – and that’s only if they are motivated. Using speech techniques is neither fun nor doable for a child, nor are they motivated. They just want to hang with their friends, play shoot-em up games in the front yard, and be a kid. Children can always quit the piano and even the math problems — the only way they can get away from talking is by being silent so it becomes even more important to keep them talking and keep it fun!

Doreen Lenz Holte

1. Halvorson, Jerry (2008). Regression Therapy for Stuttering, Page 2.
2. Murphy, Bill: A Preliminary Look at Shame, Guilt, and Stuttering. (Ratner, Nan Bernstein, Healey, E. Charles (1999). Stuttering Research and Practice: Bridging the Gap, Page 133)