Several years ago, while at a conference for families with children who stutter, a speaker/speech therapist called out to the crowd, “Our kids don’t need fixing!” The crowd, myself included, clapped and cheered in agreement.
Later that day therapists gathered to share their latest strategies for getting kids to use speech tools. Parents gathered, often in tears filled with fears, lamenting the fact that their kids didn’t use their speech tools or practice them enough. So if something doesn’t need fixing, why all the tears and tools? I have a feeling that I wasn’t the only parent in the audience who applauded and at the same time was thinking “but seriously, help me find a way to fix it!”
Of course I would never want Eli to think he needs fixing or to think there’s something wrong with him, but let’s face it – that ship has sailed. Consider all the trips to speech therapy, stickers for not stuttering, and using a significant chunk of our family vacation time and resources to go conferences on stuttering – and then try to convince him that we really don’t believe there’s a problem that needs fixing? It’s tough enough to hang on to some level of credibility as our children push towards the teen years, let’s not add fuel to their fire.
What is it we are trying to say when we say “they don’t need fixing!?” Certainly that we will accept, support, and love them no matter what. But I think it’s confusing to both parents and children when we insist that they don’t need fixing at the same time we are putting great amounts of energy into finding resources to address the issue.
Maybe “fixing” isn’t the best word for what it is we want to accomplish, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s stick with it. I sometimes hear “tools” also referred to as strategies and techniques, so for the sake of this posting, let’s define “tools” and “techniques” as any prescribed way of speaking, and “strategies” as a more inclusive approach that is devoid of prescribing a speaking manner, i.e. tools and techniques.
So let’s replace our tools aimed at fixing with strategies that minimize anxiety and maximize a sense of self, self-confidence, and engagement. What does that look like? Have you ever seen a child completely immersed in an activity? Just the other day Eli participated in a high-energy volunteer activity with his church group. He told me later that he was having so much fun he didn’t stutter at all because he “forgot to think about his speech.” Those were his exact words.
What strategies can we use to nurture that state of mind in our overly-anxious, often perfectionistic children? Wouldn’t it be lovely if a speech therapist partnered with us to explore the possibilities as they relate to our child? It would sure be a ton more fun than sitting down and practicing speech tools and techniques! We need strategies aimed at helping them forget to worry about their speech, not tools that are likely to increase the focus and anxiety around speaking. It’s crazy to deny the desire to make it go away – to fix it. Let’s just make sure we are using the right too….er, strategies! First do no harm…
Dori Lenz Holte