I was sitting with a friend about 20 years ago, watching our kids tear around the yard. I had just returned from meeting up with a new speech therapist who felt it was time to introduce our five-year old, who had stuttered since he was 2 ½, to speech tools (turtle talk, easy onsets, Tigger talk, etc). The therapist explained that the more we practiced, the less he would stutter (something to do with brain synapses and stuff). I was jazzed. I distinctly remember saying to my friend, “Intuitively, this makes so much sense. It feels good to finally be doing something!”
Mom’s intuition is usually a good thing – until it’s not. Kid’s hungry, feed her. Kid’s tired, put him to bed. Kid’s antsy, make her run around the house a few times. Kid’s getting stuck on words, practice those words without getting stuck. Kid’s still getting stuck on words, practice even more.
Why didn’t it work? Why did the speech tension increase? Why did he grow more silent when he now had his tool box full of tools to talk more easily? A recent article in Psychology Today explains that “solutions to problems related to anxiety are often counterintuitive. The harder you try to not have the anxiety, the worse it gets.” Turns out anxiety plays a huge role in the exacerbation of the speech tension and avoidance behaviors. Speech tools can be like fuel to the fire.
As parents, our intuition is to “do something,” to try hard and then harder to make the speech tension stop. Strategies focused on doing the opposite, like stuttering openly, feel counterintuitive and yet are often more productive than those aimed at stopping the behavior. Lucy Sbraga Reed Ward, a person who stutters and a speech therapist who works with children who stutter, shared this with me just last week:
“I’ve always encouraged my kids who stutter to stutter openly and avoided teaching fluency goals. I encouraged them to use stuttering modification strategies to lessen the tension, but some kids still struggle. Since reading your book, I’ve been implementing a new approach. I tell them trying not to stutter may make them stutter more. I encourage them to let their stutter out and that’s it. I just let them talk. The results have been magical!!! The struggle, tension, fillers, starters disappear. When I ask them what has changed, they tell me their talking has become easier because they’re ‘just talking and not thinking about stuttering.’”
A parent’s intuition is a good starting place, but it must evolve. Pablo de Santis’s famous quote, “’To intuit is to retrieve subconscious memories, which is why experience is the mother of intuition.” Learn to value not only your own experience, but the experiences of others. This is how we get to informed and forever evolving intuition.
Keep them talking and keep talking fun!
P.S. I apologize up front because “Mom’s intuition” seems dismissive of Dad’s intuition and Dad’s intuition is of tremendous value. It just doesn’t have the same ring, but go Dads. My husband calls it “a hunch.” That man’s hunches lead to genius – and sometimes ridiculous – solutions.