Steering Through The Rollercoaster of Childhood Stammering – Mandy Taylor

About the Author: I live in Cheshire, England after relocating from Northern Ireland four years ago. Currently I have a finance role in an integrated marketing agency and am Vice Chair of the British Stammering Association.

My partner and I both stammer and have four children, three of which stammer.

What little free time I get is taken up by marathon training (I am entered to run the Manchester marathon in April 2019) and writing my blog www.mumatronatwork.com

People who stammer in my family are the majority, a bit of a rarity I know.

I stammer, and my brother stammers. I have an uncle that stammers and my eldest boy (19) doesn’t stammer.

My partner stammers, his mum stammers and both his sons stammer (age 9 and 13).

Almost four years ago we had our little boy Kieran.

He started to stammer just before he turned 3.

My particular interest is in, as I see it, the three stages of childhood stammering

  • The ‘discovery stage’ – age 2/3
  • The ‘proactive stage’ – from when the stammering emerges until the self-conscious pre-teen years kick in
  • The ‘self-support’ stage – the teen years where they begin to experience adult life and have more complex relationships, making their own decisions, discovering responsibility and independence.

All three stages will be different for each child and indeed their family, depending on family dynamics, relationships and of course if there is any history of stammering in previous generations. If there is a history of stammering, then the way in which it has been managed and understood will have a pivotal role in the way the child will see his or her own stammering.

DISCOVERY STAGE

When a child first stammers it will usually be around the age of 2-3 as they are learning to speak in sentences, using more complex language and becoming more sociable within the family and also perhaps as they attend nursery or toddler groups. For many, this stammering is developmental as they get to grips with this new ability to interact, ask for what they need and generally begin to become more independent.

For a parent who stammers themselves, without self-acceptance of stammering, it can be a truly devastating occurrence. The parent may feel shame and guilt as they feel they have somehow passed on this dreaded affliction, as they may see it. Even for a parent who has now come to terms with their stammer, seeing and hearing their child begin to stammer can bring back many negative feelings from their past.

As a non-stammering parent, you may not even know what these speech dysfluencies are. Many turn to internet pages for advice and at this point many parents find it confusing, isolating and frightening as they have never experienced this and much of the advice is conflicting. Many are told to wait to intervene as most children grow out of it.

PROACTIVE STAGE

As parents, we know our children. You will most likely recognise signs of a stammer increasing and worsening, with more visible struggles, and as a child grows and becomes aware of the difficulty he or she has in speaking. Intervention of some type will be required.

There are various things we as parents can do and many are a very personal choice to you and your family, between you and your child.

This may vary greatly depending in your life experience of stammering.

Non-stammering parents and those with no experience of stammering will most likely seek professional support from child services privately or publicly (NHS in the UK). However these services can be expensive and / or geographically not available. Many take to online forums and support pages or social media and educate themselves as much as possible. This in itself has its positives and negatives, with many people believing at the beginning that it can be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’. The support for parents of children who stammer is still very much in its infancy (in the UK).

Stammering parents or those who have experienced stammering in their life and are at a comfortable stage in their stammering journey, will most likely have an idea of what they want to do. Many will have discussed this with their partners before having children. Many will seek speech and language therapy early on and be able to implement some techniques that has helped them, and building ideas for the future such as developing a letter for school, to help teachers understand what makes it worse, what makes it easier. They may be able to discuss stammering with their child, so the child can confide in them about negative feelings, bullying or upcoming speaking events.

A parent who stammers but who has negative feeling towards it, may feel they are seeing history repeating itself and not wish to discuss it at all. With that fear and dread they may try to hide it, and so the child may also hide their stammering as best they can. However, the parent may also decide that this is the time to deal with their own negative feelings and seek help, so that they in turn can help their child. Many seek online support groups and private therapy at this point.

One of the most controversial types of therapy for the Under 6’s is The Lidcombe Program [1], an Australian based therapy that uses a points based system of measuring fluency over a period of time. A dedicated time is set aside each day for activity during which smooth speech is praised. No negative feedback is given for dysfluencies. Routine and family dynamics are considered, and in what way changes could be made to give a more relaxed environment. Many families find a beneficial effect is achieved by slowing down a fast-paced life, more regular meal times, more one-on-one time (eg reading with your child) and less screen time. However, many families find this intrusive, and feel criticised, leading to the program not being followed as rigorously as it should be. Some parents also feel that by praising smooth speech it gives negative feelings towards the stammering instances.

It is important to say that this type of therapy should be done with no other reference to the child’s speech, the only thing that is ever mentioned is the positive praise for smooth speech during the sessions. There is little data to show this therapy is successful as it can coincide with the fact that some children grow out of stammering around this same age period.

However, as the child grows up, and they are not growing out of stammering, they need to be able to be open about their dysfluency, not afraid to speak out, not scared to tell teachers what works and what doesn’t. They need to build friendships, stand up for themselves and have their own opinions. We as parents have to make sure they have the confidence and tools to be the best that they can be, to make a positive contribution to society, to have and to speak their own mind, as individuals.

Therapy for stammering has changed very much over the years and many therapists now deal with the physical issues of stammering, giving a ‘tool kit’ of ways to improve fluency, but also to deal with the psychological issues surrounding stammering. The relationship with a therapist may last months or years and many children may wish to stop therapy as they begin that painful realisation of the fact they are different and do not want to be. They just want to be ‘normal’, to be ‘fluent’ and I feel that any person who stammers, would admit at some point, to that overwhelming wish to be ‘just like everyone else’.

As parents it is important that we have given them the opportunity to be prepared for the next stage of their life as they move through school and they have a balanced, rational and confident outlook towards their speech and any issues it may bring.

Throughout early school years it is vital to have a good relationship with teachers and for parents to be able to discuss the ways ahead, together drawing up ways to support your child.

SELF SUPPORT

As our children grow up and become more socially aware and self-conscious, many do not want to go to any type of therapy. They do not want to be different, have to give up school time, sports time or free time to attend appointments.

And we have to listen. It is their life, if they do not want to be there then it is not going to help and will only bring negative feelings towards not just speaking, but towards their parents and therapists. If we simply let them know they can always return, if and when they want support, then it keeps the door at least ajar, rather than firmly shut!

As parents, at times it is tough to find that happy medium. All you want is the best for your child.

It can also be very difficult to stand by if your child is suffering, if you see decline, if you see them change. Every instinct tells us to protect them. Again, it is time to be subtle, pick your time, make gentle suggestions of options. Let them decide.  Also provide distraction, encourage their sporting talents, singing, stamp collecting, whatever it is that makes them passionate. Let them vent, provide that safe place to be. As children get older, they will want to fight their own battles, their stammer is theirs, they will have their own journey. All we can do is give them the benefit of what we have learned along the way.

My own journey was not simple, nor is it over. With my partner and our children we realised that our life was so hectic that it was not helping anyone’s speech and so we developed an almost a semi – Lidcombe Program lifestyle change. We have special time with bedtime stories every night, eat together at the table as much as possible, to chat about our day or plans for the next few days ahead. We try to keep the routine as relaxed as possible, nothing is cast in stone and change is always an option.

When little Kieran came along and he started to stammer, even for me, a seasoned stammerer, I felt the ice cold hands around my heart. Many years before my eldest boy stammered for a few weeks after I was away for a week, it was like he was missing me and it was his way of me still being there. It stopped within a few weeks of me being back home. But this was different, I knew it was.  So, I chose to implement The Lidcombe Program much more rigorously. I also got down on his level when he was struggling, saying the words together. He used to watch me carefully when I had a repetition, almost studying me to see how I was getting the word out, as I would stop and use easy onset to get the words out, and then slow my speech down to regain that fluent pattern. I could see him almost trying it out on occasions.

My childminder was great also, reading about stammering and slowed the routine down a little so that the pace of his day was more relaxed. Just after he turned three he started nursery, and I spoke to the staff and they were brilliant. I gave them what to look out for, how to react and what to do. His stammer manifested itself in almost every way over the next while, he would repeat syllables, then whole words, he would add in fillers. He would block, it was like he was trying it all out, but each would only last a few weeks.

This last few months he has great fluency. Nursery say he was very confident during their sharing time as he told others about his weekends or things he had been doing.

He enjoys repeating the bedtime stories in his own words and is a happy chatty little boy!

Parenting is a rollercoaster as it is. Add stammering into the mix and it becomes ten times harder. But we will succeed, we will raise good kids, who will grow into fabulous adults who will go forward and be able to speak their own mind with confidence and achieve great things.

 

References

[1] http://www.lidcombeprogram.org/

 

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Comments

Steering Through The Rollercoaster of Childhood Stammering – Mandy Taylor — 24 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Really interesting to consider a semi-structured view of the parents’ experience of their child’s stammering. A rollercoaster, indeed!

  2. Mandy, It was great to hear perspective from a parent, not only your emotions but the emotions you have for your children. I wondered what of the techniques you mentioned with your young son who started nursery you feel were most helpful: relaxed pace, Lidcombe program, talking with his nursery teachers, or all together?

    • Hi, yes I think it was definitely a mixture of all the things we did. What is important to know and to tell teachers etc too, is that what will work for one child may not work for another. Another child might find simply a relaxed pace helps enormously and you might not need to do much else. Everyone is different and this carries on throughout life.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I like how you discussed the different stages and how each individual will have their own journey and experiences.

  4. Thank you for sharing this information, I really enjoyed learning about the different stages as well as information for parents. Do you feel like parents who stutter have an advantage over parents who do not in helping their child understand stuttering? Do you think parents who stutter have more fears than parents who don’t because they have experienced stuttering?
    Thanks!

    • I think parents who stutter/stammer have an advantage as long as they have a positive mindset themselves, but if they are in a bad place or are simply burying their head in the sand with their own speech those negative vibes can indeed be picked up. Kids kind of understand when we do not feel good about ourselves.
      Hence it is super important to be a good role model and address our own stammering issues before we start trying to address our children’s.
      I think there is more fears, as PWS we know how cruel children and others can be, but it is then up to us to prepare our kids for the negatives too. It happens, but we should also be active in creating a world were stammering is accepted.

  5. Thanks for your interesting paper. As a mother who stutters, I have had many thoughts on whether I wanted to take the risk of having a child who stutters, but also how I would cope with bedtime stories, school meetings, her friends etc. And when she became an adult and dated a guy who’s mother also stutters (!) it was ME who was worried once again, as the risk (or chance?) she would have a child who stutters herself brought back all the concerns again. But when I shared them with her she said “Mom, that would really be a problem, as you would give advice all of the time.” 😉 Her worries were not at all about stuttering, as she’s brought up with it. Her concerns were about me. 🙂

    That said, I am concerned about the Lidcombe method. My parents commented on my speech and it made me feel judged by the last people you want to feel judged by. I’d be interested in speaking to children who’ve done Lidcombe, but who now are adults, to hear how they experienced it. Do you have any idea if there is such (unbiased) research?

    Happy ISAD and keep talking!

  6. Hi Mandy – thank you for sharing your story. You did a great job of conveying the uncertainty and the roller coaster ride we as parents have to endure. If I may ask, how did the “semi-Lidcombe” approach differ from the rigorous Lidcombe approach? Thanks!

    • The rigorous Lidcombe is devising that time, that exact same time slot each day, making that time completely one on one, and just parent and child. No other time is ‘bumpy’ speech mentioned at all.

      My non rigorous was perhaps including a sibling in a word game (we love the game of sticking a Post-it on your forehead with a famous name and the person does quotes from the show or movie or cartoon for the others to guess the character) although the focus is on the stammering child (albeit in my house 3 of them stammer!). We would encourage the children to all take turns round the dinner table to tell us a fun thing they did that day, so we would do more sessions of speech stuff but not pointing out bumpy bits, we only ever praise speech, there is never any negative comments made.

      May I point out however if one of the kids gets very stuck we do gently say to maybe do it all together, then do it in unison and everyone gives a big cheer….it may sound cheesy but it means for them they can hear themselves say it fluently and they have wingmen!

  7. Wow, Mandy, this is an incredible share on so many counts. You’ve let us in to your own personal journey, your family’s journey and you’ve offered such great information that anyone can use, to base decisions on or just to get that all important personal perspective.
    Your break down into three stages is so useful.
    And I just love your phrase “seasoned stammerer.”
    You are wise and we should all be grateful that you chose to share this with us.
    What a great asset, ambassador and ally you are, to the stuttering community and the larger community at large, or the world.
    Thanks again.
    -Pam

  8. I think parents who stutter/stammer have an advantage as long as they have a positive mindset themselves, but if they are in a bad place or are simply burying their head in the sand with their own speech those negative vibes can indeed be picked up. Kids kind of understand when we do not feel good about ourselves.
    Hence it is super important to be a good role model and address our own stammering issues before we start trying to address our children’s.
    I think there is more fears, as PWS we know how cruel children and others can be, but it is then up to us to prepare our kids for the negatives too. It happens, but we should also be active in creating a world were stammering is accepted.

  9. I am a graduate student in speech language pathology. You mentioned using the Lidcombe Program with your child. You acknowledge this approach is controversial and has some shortcomings. Why did you choose the Lidcombe approach with your child?
    Brianne McFee

    • For me it was the correct approach as I feel this is how I would have wanted my own speech to have been addressed.I have always felt comfortable talking about my own speech with our children and with them I felt comfortable in being able to decide when to draw positive attention to smooth speech patterns and I was happy that this was not having any negative impact.

  10. It is very interesting that for children who stutter, having parents who stutter as well can have a pivotal role in the way they develop their own viewpoints of stuttering. As a parent of children who stutter, how have you noticed this to be true? Do you feel that your children have progressed/are progressing through the different stages of stuttering and developing viewpoints similarly to the course of your own journey through childhood stuttering?; and if so, is this because of wisdom you have shared with them or do you think they developed those feelings by being immersed in a communicative environment with other people who stutter in your family?

  11. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have wondered what this would be like and find your essay poignant, informative, and inspiring. I love the way you write about your role as a parent. You strike a beautiful balance between your influence in creating an atmosphere and also respecting the choices of your child. This dynamic is even more effective as you define the stages of childhood stuttering. So much wisdom here! Thank you, Mandy!

  12. Hey Mandy,

    My name is Caitlin and I am a graduate student in speech language pathology. I really enjoyed reading your post and your viewpoint as a parent (who also stutters) parenting children who stutter. Since you have three children who stutter, how has treatment and acceptance of their stutter impacted them differently?

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