My Child Stutters – And She’s Still Fabulous
Allowing my child to be a part of research
My child stutters. A lot. This. This was my world. Patience and wondering if I should address it or ignore it. I honestly wasn't sure what to do.
When my daughter, Ellie, was six, she and I went out for a "mommy/daughter date" to the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. Why? For a research study.
I am a huge advocate of "giving back" by being a part of research studies.
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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 six months leading up to this, Ellie's stuttering went 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!
My Child Stutters
The point of the study was 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.
So in researching stuttering, this is what I found. Disruptions in the forward flow of speech may consist of:
What I learned from Ellie's experience is that she was super advanced with vocabulary and grammar, and, she had a moderate/severe 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. As I researched, I became more aware.
I started noticing her struggles and slowing down my pace. We worked on our communication skills and would stop and get down to the girls' levels when they talked. Nathan and I took what we learned through this process to see how we could all grow as a family. To be more aware, present, and engaged in our conversations with everyone. We 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 looked at the life we were living - a schedule so jam-packed there wasn't much breathing room, and a high energy family that fought to get a word in. We talked with other parents of stutterers and researched online - not to "fix" her, but to learn more about how we could best communicate with one another. I wanted the girls to be able to communicate what they needed to say to the best of their ability.
The biggest insight of all
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 in this research study 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 their "issue" never becomes their identity.
"Yes, My child stutters" is a part of our past
Ellie is my incredible daughter. Stutterer, precocious, hyperactive, etc are labels that could box her in and give her an excuse in life. It could limit her and prevent her from growing. Or, it can be a passing aspect of her growing personality that is far from her identity.
I am so, so grateful that she gets it. Although this season has passed in our journey, it was a pivotal moment as a family. She didn't let her stuttering hold her back from expressing herself. She never used a limitation as an excuse to give up or not try her hardest.
Since this time, my husband walked away from his work as a realtor, I launched Mama Says Namaste, and we launched into a whole new adventure: RVing the States full time as a family. The further we got into our travels, the less her stuttering stood out. And, over time, it's faded.
Has it just been due to her?
I think it's so much more. It was us slowing down and truly listening. It was allowing for space, and the power of the pause. It was pulling back in our life, looking at minimalism, awareness, and empathy.
Truly seeing my daughter
My amazing Elizabeth Rose. She is powerful beyond measure because of the light that shines out of her loving heart - not because she had an external limitation holding her back. And, even then, when she was free-form, at ease and completely herself, her language flowed beyond limitations. My goal became to simply help her stay in that free flow where she could get out whatever she wanted to say.
We free-flow a lot more now, and when she gets worked up and excitable, she pulls back, takes a deep breath, and works through what she wants to say in her head first. Her stutters have almost disappeared, and when we do hear it, we know what to pay attention to. Not to the stutter, but to the environment we've created. This has been the biggest factor on whether or not she struggles with it.
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.
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 come her way.
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