Our son Eli, now 21, stutters. He began stuttering (actually, blocking) when he was 2 ½.
My experience raising a child who stutters inspired me to write Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter. The long version of what I’ll say here can be found in my book, but here's the short version: Eli's struggle to speak began around the time he was three. Despite starting therapy, his stutter worsened and between the ages of three and nine, he became increasingly silent and disengaged in the world around him.
Initially, Eli attended speech therapy that focused on fluency shaping and stuttering modification. This therapy was intended to “fix” him, or at least help him to stutter less. His therapists offered him all the tricks of the trade: they taught him how to stretch out sounds, take deep breaths while speaking, distract himself by tapping on his leg, and make good eye contract with those with whom he was speaking. They also taught him more complex strategies, like how to practice easy linguistic bounces and onsets (using repetition to practice saying a word in an easy way).These strategies only succeeded in so far as they taught Eli that the less he talked, the less he stuttered.
By the age of ten, frustrated with his previous treatment, we finally found a therapist who focused only on getting Eli to talk. As this therapist put it, “his previous therapy sucked all the fun right out of talking.” Over the next few years, we got our son back.
Through it all, we tried a variety of treatments to work on Eli’s stuttering. We tried yoga and meditation, but he didn’t follow through too much (nor did I!). Our main goal was always to support Eli as he explored his interests and passions and to surround him as much as possible with loving and supportive friends (both kids and adults) who knew how to interact in a way that didn't impede his communication. Now that doesn’t mean that his buddies, brothers, and parents didn’t ever talk over him or interrupt him – we all do that to each other all the time, but we tried our best to keep all of that at a minimum – not just for him, but for each other too. We all became much better listeners in the process of helping Eli overcome his stutter.
We all became much better listeners in the process of helping Eli overcome his stutter.
Today, Eli dreams of becoming an astronaut or at least being involved in the space industry. He is a senior in college, always on the dean’s list, and is currently working as an intern at NASA in their prestigious intern research program. (They’ve already invited him back for next summer!) Once Eli knew what he wanted to do, there was no holding him back. Last summer, during his NASA internship, he called every week with stories of people to whom he had introduced himself, and the many interesting discussions they had about shared interests, research, and upcoming opportunities. And yes, he still stutters with severe blocking at times! He also has tons of friends and has had several girlfriends.
My best advice for the parents of children with “differences” is to make room in your child’s life for lots of exploration, experimentation and failure. Help them build their confidence, self-esteem, and a strong sense of self. Be crazy, goofy, joyful, and silly with them and with yourself. Show your vulnerabilities and acknowledge your failures so your child can see you get through them. That's how they'll learn to do the same.