I was getting my hair cut the other day, and mentioned that I was on my way to talk to college students about stuttering. The hairdresser said, “oh, my 19-year-old son stutters.” I asked her if he had been through therapy and she said “yes, since he was three — both in school and in private therapy.” I then asked how that had worked out for him. She said “he became really quiet.” That is all she would say. My throat tightens up even as I write those words.
My Voice Unearthed mission (book, blog, Facebook page) is to help parents understand, as I wish I had, that there are aspects to therapy that can inadvertently add to the anxiety and tension around talking. There are aspects to therapy that can contribute to a handicap far greater than the stuttering itself — silence and withdrawal. Unfortunately, the focus on speech mechanics and minimizing and/or eliminating stuttering still reigns.
In the past week I’ve heard of speech therapy students being told that anxiety has nothing to do with stuttering and that neither parents nor speech therapists can do harm. I talked to a mom on the phone who told me about the folder of tools and techniques she had been handed to work on with her son over the summer. On a Facebook page I saw a speech therapist admitting that she had no experience in fluency treatment and wanted something “all laid out” so she could do therapy with a five-year old who was stuttering. (It’s called the “cook-book” approach — apparently many years ago some of the big names in this field actually did put out a book titled something like “Recipes from Speech Therapists,” and it was full of food recipes from speech therapists. Nothing new under the sun.) We have a long ways to go…but I also see glimmers of hope.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an NSA Family Fun Day at the University of Minnesota which included a panel of adults who stutter speaking to the parents. There is so much parents can learn from listening to adults who stutter and these adults were no exception. When asked what success looks like, each and every one of them said it was not about being fluent, but about putting yourself out there and saying what it is you want to say. They spoke frequently about the importance of self-confidence overall, not just around their speech. One man stated that he loved going to therapy as a child, but didn’t find the speech tools and techniques helpful. I asked him what he loved about it. His reply was that he liked that he was accepted and listened to. He felt safe.
I was also encouraged by on a gorgeous, sunny, late September Saturday morning, 65 speech therapists took time from their weekend to hear Lisa A. Scott, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Florida State University talk about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children who stutter. CBT is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We still don’t know what causes stuttering, but we do know that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can make or break the long-term well-being for anyone who stutters. Honestly, if I could do it over again, I would find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a deep understanding of fluency issues to treat our son. Finding that professional is probably like finding a needle in the haystack, but if parents continue to educate themselves and demand this approach, this glimmer will grow to be as bright as a sunny Saturday morning in September.
Keep them talking!
Best, Dori Lenz Holte