|About the Author: My name is Pallavi Kelkar and I’m from Pune, Maharashtra in India. After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology, I went on to do a Master’s and then a PhD. I have completed my doctoral work in the area of fluency disorders and my thesis is currently under evaluation.
Because of my special interest in fluency disorders, I have conducted awareness programmes in the past, as well as started a self- help group for persons with stuttering. I have completed a basic and an advanced certificate course in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and have found principles of this therapy really useful for helping my patients cope with stuttering.
I have presented and published papers in fluency and other areas at national and international conferences and scientific journals.
I have recently developed a tool for evaluation of the impact of fluency disorders (stuttering and cluttering) based on the ICF. The tool measures impact from two perspectives- that of the person with stuttering and that of their significant others.
When it comes to children, we always have double standards. We never seem to make up our minds whether they are “too young” or “all grown up”. We can never manage to come up with one rule book for everyone…and as an explanation we offer a weak “That’s different”. Sometimes we break our own records at discrimination—even for the same child, we apply different rules for different activities!
Imagine this scenario, for instance. A toddler, having just learnt the “art of walking”, is traipsing all over the house, discovering his freedom, experimenting with it and sometimes faltering. The mother knows he might stumble but lets him enjoy himself nevertheless. Never once does she tell him to “be careful” or “walk slowly.”
The same child, while experimenting with his speech and language skills, however, is in for a surprise. He comes home from nursery school, all excited, eager to spill out “what happened”. “Mummy today my- my- my- friend…” he says. He feels lost for words sometimes, stumbles over some, but it doesn’t in the least bother him until – “ Don’t be in such a hurry baby, speak slowly. Tell me properly.” – the mother says, anxious to prevent her child from stuttering – but unknowingly taking him one step towards it. Early stuttering theorists could not have been more correct when they said, “Stuttering begins in the listener’s ear.” (Gateley, g (2003))
The child suddenly realizes something has gone wrong—and speech gradually starts getting associated with stress—which further precipitates stuttering in some children.
In fact, if we delve deeper, we can see that in a young child’s life, speech is always associated with stressful situations. Let’s take a closer look at the life of a 5 year-old boy. When does he usually have to speak? To explain himself when he gets pulled up for doing something wrong… to “introduce himself” to complete strangers, to say a poem in front of a mischievous class of forty. When he does want to speak, on the other hand, his casual dialogue with his friend is interrupted by a strict “Shhh, you’re becoming very talkative in class.” To add to his woes, he has the burden of learning to speak at least two languages, sometimes three! When is speech ever a pleasurable act for him?
Well, the next obvious question that this whole exercise would elicit is, “Can we make it pleasurable?” To get an answer to this we need to give ourselves a checklist:
- Can we make a ground rule of ‘speaking slowly’ and not remind the child only when he stutters?
- Can we be good role models for slow and relaxed speaking?
- Can we speak calmly to our child even while disciplining him, instead of suddenly raising our voice?
- Can we use his drawings, etc. instead of his speech to “show him off” to relatives?
- Can we keep some “chatting time” when both we and the child are relaxed and happy?
If we can answer all the above questions in the affirmative, then yes, speech can surely be associated with “fun”. Anxiety and concern about our child’s speech is bound to show its ugly head, but for that there is always the Speech Therapist!
But in the meantime let us strive towards making our children look forward to speaking, and not run away from it. We must also remember that fluency in speech follows fluency in language. Giving the child ubiquitous amounts of language by talking about every new situation, verbalizing every experience, is as important as taking him to an open ground for him to play and run around. Along with the freedom to stumble over a word, let us also give our child the opportunity to stumble upon a new one every day!
Gateley, G. (2003). Johnson’s diagnosogenic theory of stuttering: An update. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 60(1), 22-28.
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