My son, Andy, is in seventh grade. He has blond hair, blue eyes and plays baseball. He also happens to stutter.
While Andy has been in speech therapy for most of his life for varying reasons, he started working with a speech-language pathologist at Cincinnati Children’s about 15 months ago. His speech-language pathologist has helped him realize that stuttering, while it’s a part of his life, it doesn’t define him.
When we decided to seek extra help
As a toddler, Andy was difficult to understand because he had childhood apraxia of speech. However, his speech improved greatly by the time he hit kindergarten. And while his speech wasn’t crystal clear, we could understand him.
Around third or fourth grade, though, he began to stutter a little. By fifth grade it became a bigger issue. He was afraid of being called upon and having to answer questions aloud. Over the summer between fifth and sixth grades, he developed a lot of anxiety around it. He was headed to a new middle school where he would encounter new teachers and students. His fear was that they wouldn’t be as understanding and accepting of him as his previous school.
So at this point, we gave Andy a choice. He could continue doing speech therapy through the school, or he could seek additional help at Cincinnati Children’s.
He decided to do both.
What speech therapy is like at Cincinnati Children’s
Andy and his speech-language pathologist, Rob, connected instantaneously. Rob didn’t just help him with his stuttering. He taught him how to cope with it mentally. Rob taught him that it’s okay to stutter. To be open to it, not fear it.
During their bi-monthly sessions, Andy learned techniques to overcome his stuttering without even realizing it. As they talked and played games, Rob would positively reinforce his good pauses. Rob taught him that if he’s having trouble getting his message out, pausing can be very helpful.
Rob also introduced Andy to mindfulness. He helped Andy to let go of thinking about what’s going to happen in the future so much, especially stuttering. Get through right now and the next five minutes. When stuttering occurs you can deal with it and go through it. Anticipating whether you will or will not stutter typically makes things worse. Andy tends to be a worrier, so I think this has been really helpful for him.
When we first met with Rob, he told Andy about Fluency Friday. He said that it was an intensive, day-long learning session for both parents and kids who stutter. We were intrigued and signed up. And have been going each year since.
The impact of Fluency Friday
A partnership between University of Cincinnati, Hamilton County Educational Service Center, and Cincinnati Children’s, Fluency Friday helped Andy learn that he’s not alone. Even though at school, he’s the only kid who stutters.
Both Andy and I benefited from this program. From my perspective, I was able to relax for an entire day. As a parent of a child who stutters, I am constantly on edge because I worry about how people will treat him when he talks. I want everyone to be patient with him and to let him speak without the need to speed him up or slow him down. So he was in a safe place for an entire day. And I was around a whole group of parents who have encountered similar things as we have. So we shared ideas on how we’ve handled certain situations.
From Andy’s perspective, it’s an entire day of being around people who understand what he’s been through, because they’ve been through it too. They also bring in a panel of adults who stutter. They all have careers where verbal communication is a part of their jobs. A speech-language pathologist, a teacher and a radio host were all on the panel this past session.
Don’t let stuttering dictate your life
For his career, Andy is thinking about being a teacher or even a speech-language pathologist. I have often wondered,
how is this going to work if he stutters? But the panelists at Fluency Friday told us to not let stuttering dictate his life.
He’ll be miserable if he doesn’t do what he truly wants to do. It was so meaningful to hear this from people who are successful in their careers and who have not allowed stuttering to stand in the way of their dreams.
How Andy’s doing now
Today Andy is doing really well. He’s gone from a kid who was worried about speaking up in class, to a kid who’s not going to let stuttering stop him. He doesn’t worry about it anymore. He may happen to stutter occasionally, but he knows he has some great techniques to help him through it. Stuttering is a part of him, but it doesn’t define him.