This weekend Ellie and I headed to Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center to help and learn. I am a huge advocate of “giving back” by being a part of research studies. Although my days of trying out new medicine is long gone (yikes!), the girls have been a part of numerous studies through Vanderbilt on language and cognitive development. Not only are these fun for them as they get devoted 1-1 time to play with someone and get a prize at the end, but we always learn about the study and the importance of it. It has been a wonderful unschooling experience, and this study definitely gave us another opportunity to learn together.
This study came at a perfect time. Over the past six months, I’ve noticed Ellie’s stuttering go from a slight impediment to a bigger hindrance for her. I am all for waiting things out, and Clara stuttered from age 3-6 or so and then outgrew it. I expected the same to happen for Ellie, but instead of it phasing out, it became more pronounced.
After a particularly difficult night where Ellie struggled to get out even one sentence, we decided we need to get some outside help. Lo and behold, I open up a Williamson Parent Magazine and see an ad for this study at Vanderbilt – “stutters needed, ages 5-7, full assessment, compensation…” Almost too good to be true!
The point of the study is to look at the relationship between emotions and stuttering, which is fascinating to me because I believe in the whole-body approach. Like anything else, you can’t just pick out a speech issue and not take into account the physical, emotional and mental aspects of who someone is. There are so many factors that influence how we behave and function.
Disruptions in the forward flow of speech may consist of:
- Repetitions: repeating of a syllable, sound, word, or phrase (e.g., “li-li-li-like this”)
- Prolongations: holding onto a sound for an extended period of time (e.g, “llllike this”)
- Blocks: no sound is produced then a “burst” of tension is released when the speaker if able to vocalize (e.g., “—-like this”)
- Interjections: extra words (e.g, “um, uh, like”)
- Revisions: speech is revised during and utterance (e.g., “I have to go…I need to go to the store.”)
What I learned from Ellie’s experience is that she is super advanced with vocab and grammar, and she has a moderate level of stuttering. It’s been fascinating for me to go down this road of speech. I have learned a ton about the different types, and educating myself has been one of the most beneficial things Ellie could get – because in my research, it has allowed me to be more aware. I am noticing her struggles and I’m slowing down my pace. We’re working on our communication skills and really getting down to the girls’ levels when they talk. Nathan and I have utilized this research to see how we can all grow as a family and be more aware, present, and engaged in our conversations with everyone. We’ve added in “talkie time” every night where each child gets some 1-1 time with each of us to just go over the day and talk about anything they want. This has been so powerful in our connection with all of them, and has allowed us to really tune in to what is going on in their heads as well.
We’re going to seek more assistance and get a thorough analysis – not to “fix” her but to learn more about how we can best communicate with one another. I want the girls to be able to communicate what they need to say to the best of their ability.
I learned a lot by us joining the study, and I’ve come away with some great tools for working with all the kids. But the biggest thing I got from the session was this:
Ellie knows she is loved. Period.
What an incredible affirmation for me as a mama. A question that was asked was “Do you think your parents like the way you talk?” Again, keep in mind this was a research study to look at the emotions around stuttering.
Ellie’s response was “well, I don’t think my parents care how I talk – they just want to know what I say.” As she processed the question, she figured we probably did love how she talked, but what I heard in this study was not a kid with an impediment or “issue” – I listened to my well-adjusted, incredible kid.
This is the kicker and what I want to impress upon you. Our children will all have their struggles. It may be their attitude, temper, a physical or mental delay, or any variety of challenges. Please make sure that their “issue” never becomes their identity.
Ellie is my incredible daughter. Stutterer, middle child, hyperactive, etc are labels that can box her in and give her an excuse in life. It can limit her and prevent her from growing. Or, it can be a passing thing that is far from her identity.
I am so, so grateful that she gets it. She doesn’t let her stuttering hold her back from expressing herself. She never justifies her actions because she’s the middle, or because she’s six, even. Ellie is Ellie, and she is powerful beyond measure because of the light that shines out of her loving heart – not because she has an external limitation holding her back. And when she is free-form, at ease and completely herself, her language flows beyond limitations. My goal is to simply help her stay in that free flow where she can get out whatever she wants to say.
Ask your child to tell you about them. Pay attention to how they identify themselves. Ask them what they don’t like, or what they are frustrated by. And work with them to separate those frustrations from the incredible little beings they are.
Because ultimately, Ellie is right – my love is not conditional on how well she speaks. It’s not about the presentation – looks, speech, labels – it’s about connection. And I am so, so grateful that she feels that connection with us no matter what potential obstacles are coming her way.