Monday, February 7, 2011

In all of his excitement, he forgot to stutter…

In my past blog posts I have focused on several things we did differently in order to decrease anxiety around Eli’s efforts to speak. These included:

- natural listening and eye contact (stop staring at the kid)
- generating talking by making statements instead of asking questions (stop interrogating the kid)
- focusing on and supporting their interests instead of focusing on their speech tension (promote Pokemon, space aliens, and playing with friends in the sandbox instead of speech tools and fluent speech)

Today I will focus on "putting them in charge."

Dr. Jerry Halvorson, our speech consultant, is big on this one – "Hey Eli, you’re the MAN!" He yells that all the time. Jerry is technically retired and took us on because, well, I’m not really sure except that I think he was a little bored and couldn’t resist a nine-year old kid who stuttered AND loved horses. Eli (who, through the first three years of hanging out several times a month at Jerry’s ranch, had no idea he was a speech therapist) was often "put in charge" around the ranch. He would muck out a horse stall, pick up rocks in the fields, and help load the pick-up with hay bales to take out to the horses in the pasture.

One afternoon I was standing at the sliding glass doors of Jerry’s ranch house after he and Eli had headed out to do chores. As I admired the lovely view, the pick-up truck filled with hay bales came into my field of vision and meandered across the pasture, coasting slowly across the terrain. Jerry was in the back throwing bales of hay off one by one. It took a minute for it to register…but if he was doing that, who was driving?? Yes, it was my nine-year old. Eli thought he was quite something, grinning from ear to ear when he came in the house after chores, yammering his head off about what fun it was to drive a truck. In all of his excitement, he forgot to stutter.

While there are less risky ways you can help your nine-year old experience being "in charge" (although I did grow up on a farm, drove a tractor around that age, and remember feeling like I was quite something!), there are many ways we can integrate take-charge experiences into our children's lives. Other ideas Jerry threw out ranged from having Eli engaging with younger children in a leadership capacity to letting Eli take the lead in planning and cooking a family meal (and being willing to, no matter what, embrace the results with genuine enthusiasm!)

Expecting children to "manage" and "control" their speech only contributes to an increased sense of helplessness, failure, and shame that can permeate their inner world. Putting them in charge and giving them control over many other aspects of their life can go a long ways in countering these feelings and keeping them talking! It may not be as neat and tidy as counting percent of syllable stuttered, but it’s a whole lot more productive, a whole lot more fun, and it will absolutely do no harm!

Thanks so much for your interest!
Doreen Lenz Holte


  1. Wonderful, Dori.

    As should be obvious by now, I'm in love with the idea of everyone feeling like they are the ones holding the reins, so to speak -- at the very least in one or two areas of their lives, so that they can aim all their focus there, and remember their innate birthright: that each one of us controls his or her own destiny. This, I believe, is the key to true confidence and a general ease of being.

    And it never hurts to shout at yourself in the mirror, "You're the MAN!" :-)

  2. Dori,

    I read some of your posts and can appreciate your journey. I am a speech pathologist who also stutters/stuttered. I'm a little confused by what you wrote. On one hand, it looks like you're incredibly grateful for speech therapy and on the other hand it looks like you're criticizing speech tools and techniques. Moreover, you mentioned that "expecting children to manage and control their speech only contributes to their helplessness, failure, and shame that can permeate their inner world." I totally and strongly disagree that therapy contributed to those feelings. Through my experience being a stutterer, I only gained control through practicing techniques.

    I stuttered for as long as I can remember, finally seeking therapy just before I was 31 years old. I was a word changer, a covert stutterer, the epitome of hiding it from people. Everyone in my family knew I stuttered when I was younger but no one knew I just got better hiding it as an adult. Therefore, I know all about frustration and shame. I actually hid it from my wife until I finally got so frustrated at my sales job one day because I couldn't produce a word beginning with "l". The journey began, seeking a speech pathologist, going through therapy, practicing, practicing, practicing techniques...until fluency. The SLP offered me hope, so much so, after our first session, a free consultation, I called my wife on the ride home, choking up, saying "I think she can help me." As I write these words, I almost choke up again because she changed my life. She taught me stuttering modification and fluency techniques. I also remarked to her that during stuttering mod where I had to psuedostutter I came to her to learn to stutter less, not more (LOL). At our last session, I told Priscilla, I kind of like what you do, I think I'll look into it. A few years later, I began an SLP, trying to provide that same hope (hopefully). I'm forever grateful for what Priscilla did for me.

    I'll try to post this on your blog.

    Christopher Massella, MS, CCC-SLP

  3. Hi Doreen-
    I do understand where you are coming from as a concerned parent, but Ifear you are generalizing your son's experience to the general population of stuttering. Of course all speech therapists should be using empowerment skills. Not all do. It is something I learned from not only my own experience but advanced training.
    You stated: "Expecting children to manage and control their speech only contributes to an increased sense of helplessness, failure and shame that only permeates their inner world."
    I strongly disagree. I have not seen that happen if the child, parents and speech pathologist are on the same page. I have seen wonderful success with improved fluency, improved confidence, empowerment and taking control of one's life. I am sorry your son had a prior negative experience. I had a few as a child and teen but eventually found what worked for me. It was difficult for me to overcome the negative and climb the mountain. I applaud you for doing all you can for your child and am glad he seems to be having a more positie experience now.

  4. Hi Christopher (and Lori M. too) -- I appreciate your comments and am very (very) happy that speech tools and techniques worked for both of you. I am grateful for our current therapist because he focuses therapy on helping us as parents to keep the kid talking and keep talking, fun rather than asking him "control his speech" and make fewer speech errors. All of the therapists we saw were dedicated and caring individuals - simply using the tools they have been handed. I do not, either on my blog or in my upcoming book, speak for adults when it comes to what they found helpful. I am speaking for children. I do think that to expect children to use speech tools and techniques is dangerous and causes more harm than good. It sounds like neither one of you went through this type of therapy as a child. I know I will never change everyone's minds about this and that's okay. My goal is to have resources available that do not rest on having a child "gain control" over their speech, but on helping the child to keep the pressure off and keep talking fun. Parents deserve to understand this approach and to have resources available to help them through it. Thanks again for your interest and for chiming in - it is important that we all keep talking (and keep talking fun :-)...
    Doreen Lenz Holte

  5. Hi Doreen-
    I agree that tools or techniques do not help with every child or adult. The truth is if one is fearful of stuttering, then using tools will only mask the fear. In this case it would be harmful to only foster fluency. As you stated, this unrealistic expectation could cause a child to shut down as the demands are too great. However, many children are successful and I have seen it firsthand.

    All parents have to find out what works best for their child. Sometimes I have to spend a great deal of time with children getting them to speak whether they stutter or not. It is our jobs as SLPs to encourage talking and communication. As with everything in life, not everything works for everybody. I find kids are under a great deal of pressure these days with excessive homework and activities which cause more stress.

    I think it is great you are writing a book. I only hope it is based upon not only your son's experiences, but other parents and families as well.
    Great that we can share with eachother and lucky Eli has you for a mom. Lori

  6. Ok, I am hooked. Great blog! Lucky Eli! What I would have given to have had parents intersted in finding out what made me tick, and allowed me the time to do what I needed, say what I needed,and found ways to encourage me, perhaps I would not have chosen silence myself for so long. I am an adult woman who stutters, who unsuccessfully tried to hide it for most of my life. What a misearable existence. I missed out on the things kids do and experience and ejoy because I was always afraid of being ridiculed or judged, or left out.
    I started therapy myself several years ago, and quickly realized how much I hated it. The SLPs wanted me to mask me all over again, by using speech techniques to prolong my words so that I sounded like a robot or remember to take a full breath before most words. How ridiculous is that? Breathing is automatic -when you thdn are forced to think about it before speoaking, it took the joy and spontaneity away from me wanting to talk finally for the first time in my life. What you are doing - writing this, sharing the journey, will help so many. Are you aware of or involved with Friends? I volunteer with them as an adult who stutters. Friends is for kids who stutter and thier parents, the overall approach is accpetance 1st, then choose to make changes if you wish. But we afe OK just as we are, and we must get kids to stutter to believe that. One way of doing that is to have meet and talk to older kids and teens who stutter, and adults, to know that it is ok, that we have normal, happy lives, and just happen to stutter. Friends can be found at
    Check them out-great circle of parents who get it, or learned the hard way, that their children are unique and special and perfect as is. That always must come first. Keep sharing.

  7. It's hard to hear your story - and believe me, I've heard it before from adults who stutter! I agree, spontaneity of speech is tough enough for a child who stutters - let's not make it any harder! Yes, I'm familiar with FRIENDS - and hope to be in D.C. this summer with Eli for their conference. Thanks again for your interest and support!

  8. Hi Lori - Thanks for your comments and sorry I didn't respond sooner! I witnessed Eli's increasing anxiety around talking as he tried to foster fluency skills. The silence he choose far outweighed any benefits he gained from using his skills. My goal is to help parents understand the risks so they can decide for themselves if it's really worth it. I also want parents to have resources to support an approach that doesn't come with risks of withdrawal and silence. I'm hoping my blog and upcoming book will be first steps in garnering that support.

  9. Hi Doreen - thanks for responding. I will be in D.C. for Friends. Lets be sure we meet!

  10. I may be a bit late to the initial conversation, but I wanted to add my thoughts anyway.

    I partially share the experience of Christopher: I'm a 32-year-old stutterer who has benefited greatly from speech therapy that I started when I was 27. Both of us sought out help as an adult, after living with this speech disorder for years. I've also realized that at that point, I was ready. I understood enough about my speech to want to make a change and was finally able to take that first step. I strongly feel that that sort of thing cannot be done with children. They don't hear their mistakes. Once those mistakes are pointed out to a child, they WILL hear them and if the cards had been laid out just right (or just wrong, you could say), a child might focus on them, internalize them, project their feelings onto others, and finally, like what happened to me, develop life-long secondary behaviors which have made my speech truly abnormal.

    In my opinion, the only "technique" that should be done with children for most cases of stuttering is very indirect therapy: leave the kids speech alone, model good speech, encourage communication - most of that work being done with the child's primary listeners rather than the child.

    Lori, you said, "many children are successful and I have seen it firsthand." But how do you know they were successful because of the techniques rather than being successful despite them? From what I've read, a huge percentage of childhood stuttering evaporates on its own with or without therapy. Heck, how do you know a bigger percentage wouldn't get better without that sort of therapy?