Monday, August 18, 2014

What Others Saying About Voice Unearthed

Parents and speech therapists often connect with me to provide feedback and insights into their own journeys after reading Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.  With their permission I am sharing a number of their comments because not only do they make me do a happy dance around my living room but I believe their messages are of great value and can be helpful to others dealing with a child who stutters.   So here goes… 

Lily Valley:  This book was a godsend for us. I shared it with my extended family, as well as a friend who has a three year old having difficulty. A very heartfelt thank you to Dori. I still feel as though we are in the dark ages in some respects, but was so glad to read this, a true wake up call! It is a very easy read, her and Eli's journey just pulls you along. I also shared it with a SLP friend who received it well and said she would share it with her colleagues as well.

Rachel Lavin:  I've got the book and it's great. It was a real eye opener for me. My 10 year old son earlier this year attended a series of 6 group toolbox type sessions where first they identified in each other different types of blocks and difficulties as they heard them and then the therapist explained how to deal with them. Increasing his awareness of his stammer made his speech much worse and it took us 3 months to get back to where we were prior (& he didn't use any of the techniques as he was too hung up on trying to speak). For some children that type of therapy might be useful but from reading your experience I could see very clearly what had happened with Harry.  I think all parents of children with a stammer should read it.

Gunars Neiders, PhD:  I just finished reading Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up-Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter. If people would take care to read this book, speech therapists would meet her challenge and "support kids' growth and not add layers of guilt, shame, anxiety, silence, and failure to a child's world." Then as adults they would not have to read my book "From Stuttering to Fluency: How to Manage Your Emotions and Live More Fully".

Simone Greenfield:  This is a must read book for parents of young children who are confused and unsure about speech therapy methods and approaches. My son is 6.5yo and has been stuttering since the age of 3yo. His stutter is so mild at the moment that it's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago he was gasping for air trying to get a word out and we were desperate for any help. I can't thank Rachel Lavin enough for telling me, a complete stranger, about this book. I thought I should share this with you all. I would've done things differently to start with if I had read this book before.

Suzanne Smith: I agree with Simone completely, this book is a must read for parents of children that stammer. My son Korben is 11 years now and has stammered since been 3yrs old, but like Kerry's son he has periods of fluency, which can quickly turn to periods where he really struggles to get any words out & experiences facial grimacing-there seems to be no apparent trigger. After reading this book I asked myself the same questions- who struggles more Korben or me as a parent? The truth shocked the hell out of me -Korben deals with his stammer, is frustration, is anxiety & other peoples opinions! far better than me!! It's a real eye opener- I wish I'd read it many moons ago.

Not only I read it, but my husband, granny and grandad who are very close to my son. We all felt the emotion you've described above and identified with the author's experiences deeply. It hurt to know that what we were doing wasn't helping the child at all and in fact it was harming despite our best intentions. I was always a bit sceptical about the methods used in the therapies but thought they were the experts not me. We should always trust our instincts.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flash Back - First Trip to the Ranch

Eli and I attended the last Stuttering Group Meeting at UW River Falls last week … at least the last one Eli will be able to join in on for a while as he’s off to college.   To give you a feel for the nature of these gatherings, we spent an inordinate amount of time admiring Jerry’s feet.  He had gotten his first pedicure.  Oh, and we talked about fear of speaking. 

It’s been over nine years ago that we first connected up with the eccentric, unconventional and supposedly retired Dr. Jerry Halvorson.  The first three years were a covert operation – we would visit Jerry at his ranch, overflowing with horses and horse stuff.  I mean overflowing.  Seriously.

I originally had a full chapter in my book about our first visit to Jerry’s ranch.  The content didn’t make the final cut in its entirety, but he insisted that I read it to his students whenever the chance came up.  In honor of Dr. Halvorson and nine years of ridiculous and brilliant speech therapy, here’s the chapter in its entirety.  Enjoy…


… The next day we made the trek, just Eli and I, to Jerry's ranch.  After driving 80 miles, the last half on a beautiful winding road down into a river valley, we spotted the weather-beaten "Halvorson" sign Jerry had told us to watch for on the side of the road.  The driveway took us past a small chocolate brown house, probably at least 100 years old.  As we passed that building I realized there was another much newer, albeit somewhat unkempt, chocolate brown house attached to the back.   I parked the van expecting Jerry to appear from somewhere to greet us, but all was quiet.  We approached the newer part of the house and knocked on a door adorned on each side by dusty saddles.  When there was no answer I hesitantly ventured into an entryway area.  It was lined with cardboard boxes, a few pairs of old cowboy boots and a few more saddles, all coated with more dust.  I knocked on an inside door and heard a muffled voice.  When I opened the door a muffled voice called out “come'on in.”

We climbed some steps, rising above more saddles perched on a long railing, all covered with more dust.  I spotted him on the other side of a large room (a sort of "Where's Waldo experience).  He was nestled in his recliner, bare feet crossed, wearing a ragged pair of sweats and an old t-shirt, not looking quite as much like a cowboy as the day before, and even less like a speech professional.  But the room left little doubt about the cowboy part.  In addition to at least fifteen saddles, there were reins, horse blankets, horse posters, horse paintings, horse figurines, and even a horse rug.  Yes, just like a bear rug, only a horse rug.  A dead horse rug.  This was clearly a collection (or collector?) gone amuck.   

We continued through the big room, passing an old kitchen cook stove.  It sat in the middle of what should have been the living room, giving off warmth and the wonderful smell of wood burning.  This scent, combined with a scent of horse dung and fried food, permeated the room.

"Glad to meet cha," Jerry bellowed out to Eli, thrusting out those muscled cowboy fingers from the depths of his recliner.  "I hear you like horses."   Eli grinned and shook his hand and continued to peer around the room – he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  Neither was I.           

The area where Jerry sat was loosely defined by two large couches loaded with clothes, papers, and boxes overflowing with God knows what.  His recliner faced both the TV tuned in to a soap opera and sliding glass doors.  His view included a pasture with a herd of horses, a meandering trout stream, and a large bluff of trees in the distance.  Just as I started to admire that view, Jerry gleefully pointed out his latest deck ornament -- a dead coyote hanging from the clothes line.  I let out an involuntary groan.  Eli squealed in delight.   

He told us to have a seat, but didn’t seem to notice that the only one not filled with stuff was his.  Having confronted two dead carcasses in a very short period of time (not to mention the goat-haired vest he was wearing when my husband and I had first met him the day before) I was feeling the need to either sit or run.   I decided on trying to sit rather than bolt and boldly removed a pile of clothes from a chair only to expose a small pile of corn in the seat cushion.  My eyes opened wide as I now imagined live animals instead of dead carcasses co-existing with him here in cowboyville.  I asked what kind of creatures he was feeding.   

"Oh yeah," he threw his head back and chuckled.  "There's a grey squirrel around here somewhere.  I heard him dancing on the piano keys just last night!"   Now I really truly was ready to run, but Eli clearly wasn’t as he'd already nestled himself in between some piles of clothes on the couch next to Jerry's chair.  Jerry chuckled and assured me that the pile probably fell out of his pants pocket – treats for his trick horse.  Besides, he feeds the squirrel apples -- in a trap he had set in the older part of the house. I gamely scooped up the corn, dumped it in a plastic grocery bag hanging from a kitchen cupboard, and finally sat down. 

Jerry still hadn’t moved and I later came to understand how the old wrestling injury in his knee limited his mobility.  He stayed comfortably in his chair, mostly watching TV and making off-handed comments to no one in particular.  Eventually Eli jumped in and together they discussed the dead coyote hanging on the deck (found it on the road, saving it for a buddy who collects hides), the bald eagle flying overhead, and the types of horses in the pasture.

They continued to banter back and forth and Eli became more relaxed.  More than I could say for me.  I was working hard to block the image of a grey squirrel running up my pant leg and my fleeing out the door, leaving my nine-year-old to fend for himself.    

After about a half-hour of small talk, Jerry announced that it was time to feed the horses.  "Got a bad knee, could use your help."  Eli was more than willing and we all put on our coats and headed for the barn.   The smells of horse dung, hay, dust, dry and cold were all-familiar to this farm girl, taking me immediately back to my childhood farm home in southern Minnesota.  Jerry introduced Eli to a few horses that were being kept in the barn, and then led us upstairs to throw down hay.   He showed Eli how to push the bales down from the highest rows and heave them out an opening down to a waiting pick-up truck.  Several times Jerry had to grab Eli's coat to keep him from going down to the truck bed with the bale of hay.  Eli laughed a lot every time that happened.  Then we all loaded into the truck and drove out to the pasture. 

After sliding through some mud, as it's a rainy December, we drove right through the trout creek and up onto drier land.   Jerry threw the bales out, cut the twine, and instructed Eli to break them up and strew them around.  I had gotten out of the truck and was busy snapping pictures when I became aware of a growing thunder coming from behind me.  I turned to see the whole herd of horses galloping at full speed toward us.  Jerry calmly suggested that it might be a good idea for us to get back in the truck.  I took heed, quickly pulling Eli in behind me (I reckon a good mother would have shoved him in first).  We shut the truck doors just in time to be surrounded by the galloping horses.   It was quite spectacular and Eli begged me to let him take pictures.  I handed him the camera and he leaned far out the window to shoot.  Jerry got in the truck and told him to keep taking pictures.  "Just let me know when you want me to start and stop.  “You're in charge boy!"  Jerry bellowed.  Eli hung out the back window, yelling stop and go commands at Jerry as the truck lurched through the herd of horses.  

As my concern for whiplash was starting to mount, we finally headed back to the house.  Jerry invited us back in for tea and we accepted – although I wasn’t crazy about ingesting anything that had been prepared in his kitchen.  But after the cold and dampness of the pasture, the tea actually tasted pretty good.  As we got up to leave, I noticed two pictures on his refrigerator.  The first was an 8 x 10 of a beautiful baby boy with curly hair and brown eyes looking for some really fun trouble -- presumably a grandson.  Next to it was a magazine tear-out of a bikini- clad woman feeding a horse.   As we walked toward the door, back through the maze of saddles and horse paraphernalia, I wondered what I had gotten us into now?

There was certainly no pretense about this guy.  Somehow in the midst of the chaos of saddles and leather and dust and horses there was a sense of honesty that I was beginning to appreciate.  He wasn’t hiding behind clean white walls, rhetoric, impressive goals I did not understand, or speech tests and fancy techniques.  His walls were filled with horse paintings and bullhorns instead of degrees and certificates.  He didn't have a waiting room filled with moms reading People magazine and writing out the check.  All he had was a bunch of horses, a few dead animal carcasses, a gray squirrel, and now a befuddled but weirdly hopeful mom with a little boy who stuttered.