As some of you know, I get a little crazy when I hear the word “manage” connected with children’s speech. Parents are continually told by support organizations that speech therapy cannot cure stuttering, but can help the child learn to “manage” their stutter. In the May/June edition of the National Stuttering Association’s “Family Voices,” Nina Reardon, a well-known leader in this field, responds to a question from a parent concerned that her child is switching out words that might be easier in an attempt to avoid stuttering. Reardon states “Overtime, it can begin to take more effort to avoid a stutter than to stutter openly, or manage a moment of stuttering.”
Even if Ms. Reardon did not mean to suggest that managing a moment of stuttering takes a similar amount of effort as stuttering openly, this type of rhetoric serves to convince parents and speech therapists there are children out there who are effortlessly using their speech techniques and everyone should invest in this type of therapy.
Reardon asks this parent to consider what their child would want or need from their listeners that would help them deal with their stuttering in the long term. She says “I pose the question this way, because as those who live in the world of stuttering, we must keep our eyes on the ‘long-term’ prize. Many times, we do what we think will help in the moment but forget to consider the long-term ramifications.” I couldn’t agree more. Yes, the use of speech tools and techniques can help a child in the moment – just like switching words can help in the moment, but this unrealistic expectation runs a tremendous risk of increasing anxiety around speaking, thus exacerbating the issue. Rather than improve communication, the long-term ramifications are increasing silence, disengagement, and a growing sense of failure.
National support organizations, in general, do a wonderful job encouraging kids to engage, helping parents to cope, and creating a sense of community for those connected with this issue. Now is the time to eliminate the expectations of children using speech tools and techniques and focus on helping parents to understand how they can minimize anxiety around talking. I am convinced that recovery rates would soar – maybe up to the 80% spontaneous recovery rate preschoolers experience – when therapists focus on helping parents and teachers minimize anxiety around talking and do not attempt to arm children with a tool box of techniques.
Although many are on a different page when it comes to the value of speech tools and techniques in therapy for children who stutter – but I have absolutely no doubt that we are all on the same page when it comes to defining “long-term prize.” We want kids who are happy, engaged, confident, and giving. Yes – let’s keep our eye on the prize and focus on keeping them talking!
Doreen Lenz Holte