I am a person who stutters and have done so for most of my life. As a lot of you reading this will understand living with a stutter presents many challenges, a lot of frustration, embarrassment, fear and shame to name just a few emotions. But they are nothing compared to when you find yourself as a parent of a child who stutters. Many parents who find themselves in this situation, whether they stutter or not, find themselves facing into the unknown. They may have little experience of stuttering and how to deal with it or they may have some experience within the family but have not given it much thought or they may, like me, be filled with dread that their child has to face the difficulties presented by stuttering. My daughter was late to speak and at two and a half had only half a dozen words, after looking at hearing as a possible cause she had grommets inserted and her vocabulary increased dramatically. However with increased speaking came stuttering which was a shock to me as neither of my older children had ever stuttered. As soon as she started stuttering I wanted to make sure she had every advantage to help her cope with it. My first port of call was the public health nurse who referred me on to a Speech and Language Therapist for assessment. And so began our adventure with stuttering. My daughter is now 18 and about to start a course in Creative Writing in Sept 2016, she is bright, happy, clever, and sociable, with lots of friends and lots of interests – but then again I would say that, I am a little bit biased. Rather than go into detail of all the Speech and Language Therapy and supports she received over her life I wanted to tell you what I, as parent of a child who stutters, learned about stuttering, about what helped my daughter and what I learned about what I could do – or not do – to be helpful.
THE PRESCHOOL YEARS During these years I spent quite a lot of time wanting to find a way to make sure my daughter didn’t stutter and I thought that if it was only caught early, with treatment, it would go away in time. I found out that this is only partially true. A Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) assessed her speech to ensure there was no physical reason why she stuttered and that her comprehension of language was appropriate for her age, she had no issues there. My experience is that direct Speech and Language Therapy is not given to preschool children for stuttering because it is possible that their stuttering will not continue and will resolve itself. Most of the work is done indirectly with the parents and these are the things I learned that would help my daughter, and me, to deal with her stutter.
FACTS ABOUT STUTTERING 1% of the population stutters. Stuttering is variable – it can vary by day, by week, by situation, with different people. Stuttering can be hereditary – there is strong likelihood there is someone else in the immediate family who stutter. Stuttering is not caused by a fright or trauma. Many children under seven who stutter do not have a big awareness of their own stuttering – it can often be the parents who are highly sensitive to their children’s stuttering. What I learned I could do to help my daughter who stutters
• Bring her to an SLT for assessment and speak to the SLT about my concerns and worries and seek advice. • Slow down the rate of my speech from rapid fire to relaxed tone – this helps reduce time pressure. • Maintain eye contact. • Introduce turn taking for talking in a busy household – the child doesn’t have to compete to speak as everyone gets their turn. •Having one to one talk time where she was uninterrupted and was free to talk about anything she liked regardless of how she spoke. This helps build confidence in her ability to speak. •Reduce questions such as ‘ How was nursery?’ which puts pressure on the child to answer. • Use statements instead such as ‘ You look like you had fun in nursery today’ – the child will find it easier to respond. • Ensure she knew I was interested in hearing what she had to say and not how she said it. • Tell other family members that she has plenty to say and to give her time and space to say it and not to finish her words/sentences or speak on her behalf. • Make sure she knew that whether she stuttered or not I wanted to hear all the interesting things she had to say. • Tell her I loved her no matter how long it took for her to say what she had to say • Introduce turn taking for talking in a busy household – the child doesn’t have to compete to speak as everyone gets their turn. •Having one to one talk time where she was uninterrupted and was free to talk about anything she liked regardless of how she spoke. This helps build confidence in her ability to speak. •Reduce questions such as ‘ How was nursery?’ which puts pressure on the child to answer. • Use statements instead such as ‘ You look like you had fun in nursery today’ – the child will find it easier to respond. • Ensure she knew I was interested in hearing what she had to say and not how she said it. • Tell other family members that she has plenty to say and to give her time and space to say it and not to finish her words/sentences or speak on her behalf. • Make sure she knew that whether she stuttered or not I wanted to hear all the interesting things she had to say. • Tell her I loved her no matter how long it took for her to say what she had to say.
THE PRIMARY SCHOOL YEARS I worried about my daughter starting Primary School, I worried about her being bullied or laughed at, I worried about her not fitting in, I worried about people thinking she was stupid, I worried. But then again, I am a parent; it is my job to worry. I went to an SLT privately to sort out her stutter before she started school and she used the Lidcombe approach which worked well and reduced my daughter’s stuttering considerably. So I was full of hope when she started school that her stutter was minimal and would cause her little concern. However, with the rough and tumble of life and even though we still maintained the Lidcombe practices regularly her stutter returned in its variable unpredictable form. Speech and Language Therapy can and does help but there is no guarantee it will cure. All the while I worried my daughter was enjoying school, making friends and getting on with her life. Looking back I realise now that her stammer was much more of a problem for me than for her. My daughter continued with Speech and Language Therapy (with a different approach) but the biggest thing that changed for me in the early Primary School years was my acceptance that it was likely she was going to stutter into adulthood and rather than trying to make it go away I needed to find ways and help her find ways to live with stammering and recognise that it is just one part of her life and not the centre of it. Through working with her SLT (using a more acceptance based approach) here were the things I found most helpful; • I realised I could do a lot help her navigate her way through life with a stutter. • Talking to her about her stuttering, acknowledge that it is a struggle but not to let it define her. Listening to her worries and concerns about her speech and letting her know she did not have to deal with it on her own, she had lots of support from family and friends. • Letting her know she is not alone, letting her meet other children and adults who stutter, it reduces the sense of isolation. Helping her to look up successful people who stutter. Her being involve with Irish Stammering Association activities helped her to meet other young people who stammer and share experiences. • Talking to her teacher about stuttering, giving him a fact sheet, explaining what helps and what does not help the child who stutters. • Her SLT going into class to talk about differences, what stuttering is and how the kids can help their class mate who stutters.
• Encouraging social interaction. Encourage joining activities that the child is interested in. • Continuing with turn taking and talk time. Encouraging talking in different situations. • As she got older encouraging her to find her own solutions to difficult situations such as agreeing a signal with her teacher so he would know when my daughter wanted to be asked a question in class. • Her working with her SLT to help her recognise that her stammer does have to define her and to problem solve around particular situations.
In Part 2: Find out more about the D.A.R.E. scheme and Bevin’s Secondary School Years