Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Therapy for children who stutter? "Sing the Monday night football song in your underwear!" says Josh.

I'm going to republish this wonderful blog post by my guest blogger, Josh Drzewicki, because the links were not working in the last one.  Thanks Josh for patiently walking me through that blip!!  


Josh Drzewicki is an adult who stutters with a great sense of humor and wonderful ability to write!  This piece, published on his blog, came across the British Stammer Association and I thought it was lovely, especially for parents.  Thank you Josh, for being my guest blogger today!  Enjoy!

 "Sing the Monday night football song in your underwear!" says Josh.

As every person who grew up stuttering, my speech has had its ups and downs. Some days I could blow through my sentences like a NASCAR driver down a moonlit country road. Others, I was a bull, stomping and thrashing through the china shop, destroying the beauty and elegance of the spoken language.
"Hu-hu-hu-hu-hi-i-i-i-i, muh-muh-muh y name is Juh-juh-josh," I would say as I introduced myself to people, generally someone my dad knew. Days like this were a constant reminder that I was part of the 1% - the 1% who stuttered.

Growing up with a stutter isn't easy for anyone. Luckily I had some incredible parents who were behind me at every step. I was diagnosed and enrolled in speech therapy very early in life. I was given a chance to push back against my stutter and was encouraged to be the person that I wanted to be, even if I fell flat on my face trying.

This is the reason I wrote this article - to help parents contribute to their child's life just like mine did. They didn't have the expertise of a person who stutters or a Speech-Language Pathology degree, but, with the help of my grandparents, they did the best they could.

I'm not here to rid your child of their stutter, as of now, there is no cure. I am not here to "defeat" the stutter either, but to help children refuse to let it defeat them. And as nearly every habit (including singing the Monday Night Football song in my underwear every Monday), it starts with the parents.

1. Listen to your child

Growing up, on a bad-speech day, I was frequently told one of several things.

"Josh, stop and take a deep breath, then start over."

"Slow down and you won't stutter."

Although they have good intentions, don't say it. It just puts more pressure onto the speaker. When someone says that, they're indirectly saying, "It's uncomfortable for me to listen to you struggle with your words. Let's get this over with."

Think of putting four pound weights on the ankles of an Olympic sprinter before the gold-medal race.
The increased tension and anxiety creates a feeling of incapability and is detrimental to their self esteem.
What you can do as a parent is listen. Let the child say what they want. Always give them your full attention, because the reinforcement of talking to someone who will genuinely listen and care will help their social anxiety levels in the short and long run. Plus, they may be more willing to seek advice and talk to you in the future. In my case, when I was slightly pudgy and had hair drooping in my eyes (and girls still had cooties). I was a disastrous mess of Axe body spray and hair gel, but it had nothing to do with my stutter.

If your child has something to say, let them say it. Both of you will be better off for it.

2. Make speaking fun

The more fun you can make speaking, the more relaxed and excited your child will be to speak.
I've always loved talking. I think it's partially because my parents were very social people when I was growing up. Anywhere I go with my dad, he always knows someone. We could be in the middle of nowhere (think Iowa, no offense), driving down a dirt road and he would see one of his high school friends and talk for 15+ minutes.

He kept the concept of conversation and speaking with people light and easy. Seeing him do it all of the time made it easier for me to emulate him. In middle school (he was my principal), I spent countless hours in detention for talking because of how much I enjoyed it (sorry dad).

For a kid who is in their earlier years of elementary school, make it a game to meet people and talk more. A suggestion I would give is to give is to challenge them to meet a certain number of people on the first day of school. Say five or six. If they meet it, take them out for ice cream. Set milestones for them to reach and reward them for it. In today's age, you can have your child take a selfie with each kid they meet to prove it. Or ask the teacher if they actually talked to the people they said they did.

Another idea would be to let your child tell you a story. Not about their life, but let them dream up a story and tell you, think dragons, princesses and weird castles with chefs that only make the best of shaped mac and cheese. The creative and novel thinking is good for their development, plus they get to talk and be creative. I have found that relaxing and enjoying myself is the easiest way to not care about my stutter.

3. Find other kids who stutter

The number one complaint I've heard from people who stutter is that they felt alone. Your child probably feels like an outsider because they can't talk while all of their peers find it so easy. The best remedy is finding someone else who stutters for your child. Just knowing they're not the only one is a huge de-stressor. It also gives your child a chance to talk to someone who is going through the same challenges as them.

The number one resource I've heard of so far is the National Stuttering Association. You can find an NSA meeting near you with this link. (hyperlink to this

The next national meeting is in Chicago, Ill. (not until 2015 though). So if you're in the Midwest, that could be a great time to get your child into a situation where they are surrounded by people who stutter. Personally, I've never gone, but every person I've talked to who has gone had a great time and nearly always gone back the next year. You can find out more information here. (hyperlink to

Another option to find kids who stutter is to ask a speech pathologist or your school-based speech therapist if they know any. They would be a great resource. Many speech pathologists know other pathologists from nearby cities or towns and would be able to ask them if they have a student around your child's age who stutters.

In conclusion

Only one percent of the world's population stutters. That may seem like a very small number, but in context, that is over 3 million Americans. Right now, Google says the size of East Lansing, Mich. is about 48,500. That means that nearly 500 people in my city stutter. That's a fair amount of people. So make sure your child gets out and about and meets these people. It will encourage them to be a role model for someone else who stutters when they're older.

Last but not least, here is a Tedx talk from Sharon Emery. She lives in Lansing, Mich. and is in the public relations field. She is a fantastic human being and has a unique view on stuttering.

Josh Drzewicki writes and podcasts at about stuttering. (hyperlink to

Friday, October 24, 2014

We must understand the "somethings" and "nothings" for children who stutter.

The National Stuttering Association’s recent campaign poster is unsettling to me.  It states that “There are many ways to help children who stutter – doing nothing is not one of them.” While I agree whole-heartedly, I fear that this will be interpreted by a worried parent, as “just get your child to a speech therapist and then you’ve done the “something” you’re supposed to do.  That was certainly the extent of our plan when our son began struggling sixteen years ago!  Don’t we wish it was that simple.

Sometimes my message in Voice Unearthed is interpreted as “doing nothing is safer than doing something.”  This could not be further from the truth.  Parents must be aware that there are many somethings out there and some of those somethings are helpful and some of those somethings are not – if fact – they can even be harmful when it comes to treating children who stutter.  Parents (and speech therapists) must educate themselves about all of the possible “somethings” and fully understand the risks and controversies around each one prior to enlisting their child in therapy.    

I understand that unfortunately there are parents out there who choose to be minimally engaged in most aspects of their child’s life, and for those parents, speech therapy isn’t going to be at the top of the list.  My heart goes out to those kids for reasons far beyond their challenge with speaking, but many parents do care and will embrace finding appropriate and safe support that will focus on the best long-term outcomes --- keeping their kids talking and engaged in the world around them.   Many things can be done to ensure that outcome – and yes, “nothing is not one of them.”

Dori Lenz Holte

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun - Or Maybe There Is!

I was getting my hair cut the other day, and mentioned that I was on my way to talk to college students about stuttering.  The hairdresser said, “oh, my 19-year-old son stutters.”  I asked her if he had been through therapy and she said “yes, since he was three – both in school and in private therapy.”  I then asked how that had worked out for him.  She said “he became really quiet.”  That is all she would say.  My throat tightens up even as I write those words. 

My Voice Unearthed mission (book, blog, Facebook page) is to help parents understand, as I wish I had, that there are aspects to therapy that can inadvertently add to the anxiety and tension around talking.  There are aspects to therapy that can contribute to a handicap far greater than the stuttering itself – silence and withdrawal.  Unfortunately, the focus on speech mechanics and minimizing and/or eliminating stuttering still reigns. 

In the past week I've heard of speech therapy students being told that anxiety has nothing to do with stuttering and that neither parents nor speech therapists can do harm.  I talked to a mom on the phone who told me about the folder of tools and techniques she had been handed to work on with her son over the summer.    On a Facebook page I saw a speech therapist admitting that she had no experience in fluency treatment and wanted something “all laid out” so she could do therapy with a five-year old who was stuttering.  (It’s called the “cook-book” approach -- apparently many years ago some of the big names in this field actually did put out a book titled something like “Recipes from Speech Therapists,” and it was full of food recipes from speech therapists. Nothing new under the sun.)   We have a long ways to go…but I also see glimmers of hope.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an NSA Family Fun Day at the University of Minnesota which included a panel of adults who stutter speaking to the parents.  There is so much parents can learn from listening to adults who stutter and these adults were no exception.  When asked what success looks like, each and every one of them said it was not about being fluent, but about putting yourself out there and saying what it is you want to say.  They spoke frequently about the importance of self- confidence overall, not just around their speech.  One man stated that he loved going to therapy as a child, but didn’t find the speech tools and techniques helpful.  I asked him what he loved about it.  His reply was that he liked that he was accepted and listened to.  He felt safe. 

I was also encouraged by on a gorgeous, sunny, late September Saturday morning, 65 speech therapists took time from their weekend to hear Lisa A. Scott, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Florida State University talk about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children who stutter. CBT is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  We still don’t know what causes stuttering, but we do know that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can make or break the long-term well-being for anyone who stutters.  Honestly, if I could do it over again, I would find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a deep understanding of fluency issues to treat our son.  Finding that professional is probably like finding a needle in the haystack, but if parents continue to educate themselves and demand this approach, this glimmer will grow to be as bright as a sunny Saturday morning in September.  

Keep them talking!
Dori Lenz Holte