One statement I hear repeatedly is that “our children are NOT broken and do NOT need fixing!” While I do believe that acceptance (both on the listeners’ and the child’s part) is key to keeping the stuttering behavior from escalating, there is something about this statement that is unsettling. It sets up a false dichotomy – either they are broken or they are not broken – either they need fixing or they do not need fixing. In reality, I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

What exactly do we mean by “fixing?” What exactly do we mean by “broken?” Without further definition, this saying can easily serve as an escape clause for both parents and speech therapists alike – especially when therapy doesn’t result in natural and free-flowing communication.

Most parents are blindsided when they are faced with a child who begins to stutter. They put their children into therapy that sets up the expectation of being able to manage their speech with the use of speech tools and techniques. How can a child not perceive these actions as trying to fix something that is broken. The pleased look on the therapist’s and parent’s face when the child uses their techniques and does not stutter, combined with the rewards (stickers, candy, applause) quickly overrides any message of “it’s okay to stutter.” Children just want to please.

So if we do reach out to a speech therapist for help, does that mean we are putting a “broken” label on our child? If we do not reach out to a speech therapist, does that mean we are being insensitive and negligent? It starts to feel like a sort of damned if we do, damned if we don’t scenario.

What is needed is an option for support that encourages communication and lessens the anxiety around speaking. We do not know the cause of stuttering, but we do know that increased anxiety around talking will most often contribute to an exacerbation of the issue. Parents need to be in therapy to learn how to create an environment that contributes to natural and free-flowing communication. Children do not need to be in therapy to learn to “manage” their speech. This effort only leads to increased anxiety and fear around talking.

When we don’t know what is “broken,” we really can’t know how to fix it, so let’s first do no harm. Keep them talking!


Doreen Lenz Holte