Several months ago I witnessed a speech therapist I admire make light of the fact that children usually only use their speech tools while with the therapist. While I firmly believe that there is not one drop of malicious intent behind the casual acceptance of this common observation, we need to understand that the negative impact of setting up unattainable goals for a child can be devastating.

I’ve often hear parents say “I just don’t know why he doesn’t use his tools at home, he does so well with his therapist.” Both parents and speech therapists usually decide that the child just needs more practice. When that doesn’t help, they decide that they’ve done their duty by filling the speech tool box, now the child can use these tools when HE chooses, placing the onus squarely on the child’s shoulders. ouch.

The confusion and uncertainty inherent in therapy for children who stutter creates an insecure foundation for therapists. In addition, speech therapists are under undue pressure to report progress (too often defined as fewer speech errors) in a relatively short period in order to justify continued therapy. Parents are desperate for solutions — the idea of their child having a life-long challenge with this issue is so painful it is almost unthinkable, especially in the early years.

So we, in turn, impose expectations on these kids that most often set them up for failure — failure that is relentless and permeates almost every moment of this child’s world The late Tim Field, expert on the subject of bullying in the workplace, states that a common strategy used to bully an employee is to “put the individual in a situation in which failure is almost certain.”[1]

Have we caring adults all become unintentional bullies?

Family Lives, a charitable organization in the U.K., reports that when a disabled child is being bullied:
– Their condition may be reinforced or worsened.
– They may become reluctant to mix in social situations. [2]

This was the exact outcome of Eli’s speech therapy. His stuttering went from mild to moderate to severe (condition reinforced or worsened), and he became silent and withdrawn (reluctant to mix in social situations).

It may seem harsh to label our actions as bullying, but the similarities around the negative impact are too concerning to ignore. We must work together to extricate this strategy from speech therapy for kids who stutter. We must keep them talking and keep it fun!

Doreen (Dori Lenz Holte)
Author of Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter

1. Tim Field, Bully in Sight Success Unlimited (1996) p. 43