Written November 2010
For these last three years, I held firmly to the belief that Ian’s stuttering would one day disappear. If we found the right therapist. If he worked hard on his speech tools. If… If... Poof. It’d be gone.
This week, he and I attended a two-day workshop for those affected by stuttering. Graduate students from Bowling Green University teamed up with kids and provided two days of intensive one-on-one and group speech therapy. Experts answers parents’ questions.
While the weekend was wonderful, it was equally heartbreaking as I finally came to the realization that there is no “cure” for stuttering. Not only that, but its intensity increases at different times during your child’s life.
As I listened to one teen boy (I learned boys are four times more likely to stutter than girls.), I internally cringed as he struggled to be understood. While I applauded his bravery to participate in a teen panel, I wondered why he’d put himself through such angst.
He fidgeted in the metal foldout chair as parents asked questions in soft, apologetic tones. No one wanted to pry, but was it OK to ask anything?
Most questions started the same way. I hate to ask, but…how has stuttering negatively affected your self-esteem, making friends, your grades? What types of things are you afraid to try because you fear the risk of stuttering? Do you talk on the phone? Ask girls out on dates?
You could literally see the parents’ minds flashing forward to sometime in the future when their now 8-year-old boy sat home alone on a Saturday night, too afraid to ask a girl to the movies.
“How was your session?” the 20-something clinician from BGU asked me during our lunch break. I nodded. I know, not an answer. Ian piped in, “In our group, we played games.” I didn’t want to tell him in my group, a roomful of anxious moms and dads, there was a lot of crying. I told this to the therapist when Ian left to get another piece of pizza.
“Really?” She seemed surprised.
“Nobody would choose this for their child,” my voice broke, the rest of my thought played out in my head. Life is tough enough. As his mom, I have every right to be angry and upset that he has one more obstacle than all the other kids he knows.
For the one percent of the population that stutters, this weekend might have been the first time they met anyone else who spoke like them. It was for my son. He told me that was his favorite part, to meet people who “talk just like him.”
This year, I came better prepared. I discreetly passed Kleenex to new parents who attended the parent workshops. I gave pens to others wanting to take notes on how to best incorporate therapy into everyday life.
I listened to other parents about their kids’ speech challenges without jumping in with my son’s own. These parents didn’t want to hear me talk. They wanted someone to listen. I understand. So I did.
“It’s just I worry he’s not heard,” one mom confided to me at a break.
It’s a common concern of parents with kids that stutter. The stutterer’s speech can’t keep up with his friends and often he will acquiesce instead of voicing what he really wants.
At lunch, the conference allowed kids to come up on stage and tell jokes. A dark-haired boy walked forward and grasp the mic. He started to tell a joke but only got the first word out. The rest and the punch line stuck in his throat. He sat down deflated.
He didn’t leave the stage but instead waited until all the other kids finished. He stood up and walked to the center of the stage.
“Do you have a joke?” asked the therapist acting as MC.
He shook his head and leaned forward to whisper in her ear. She handed him the mic.
Then he started to sing.
His voice was clear and strong as he sang a pitch-perfect version of The Lazy Song. I raised my hands and started to wave them back and forth as if at a concert. A mom next to me joined in.
I reached for a Kleenex knowing this stutterer had been heard.