Just returned from the FRIENDS Conference in Denver. Big thanks to Lee Caggiano, John Albach, and all the volunteers for this opportunity to come together with support and education. Thanks also to the American Institute for Stuttering staff for sharing their insights and knowledge with parents and speech therapists.
It was so encouraging to hear talk of different ways of viewing and responding to stuttering. There were still many parents experiencing the “fix it” therapy (unsuccessfully with harm being done) and that literally made me cry. But things are changing – ever so slowly. While I understand the desperate desire to fix it, for the child who, for whatever reason, is going to continue – that focus can and does contribute to a lifetime of struggle that extends far beyond the basic stuttering behavior. There are still too many therapists out there who believe there is evidence for these approaches and a “window” exists where utilizing approaches with the goal of fixing the stutter is more likely to benefit children, especially preschoolers. Sadly, many communication disorder students are still being ingrained with this information or succumb to the pressure once they’re out in the field.
The idea that it’s okay to give them speech tools and they can use them if they want to is more likely to backfire than to aid in free-flowing communication. When we suggest tools and praise kids for using those tools, they easily become deaf to “it’s really okay to stutter.” Another thing, while I’m here, is it maybe better to say “it’s really okay WITH ME if you stutter?” Whether or not it’s okay with them is really up to them to decide. At the same time, there are so many ways, in our actions and responses, we can help them to develop a positive attitude about their ability to communicate that will be far more effective and less risky than giving them speech tools while trying to convince them it’s really okay to stutter. We also need to help them build resiliency to cope with those times when they’re really not feeling like it’s okay.
I want to take this opportunity to publicly state that FRIENDS is not about fluency. Ten years ago, when my book came out, that was my perception and accurate or not, I do not apologize for that. Options within the field of therapy for stuttering were far more limited and the entire field was more focused on fluency than it is today… but we still have a LONG ways to go!! I’m grateful that FRIENDS is on board and contributing to a shift that is so desperately needed!!
Best to all!
Doreen Lenz Holte is author of Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.