I’m a therapist. A Physiotherapist.
I understand therapy and how it works. I know that in order to make change one needs to practice or repeat favourable behaviours over and over again until it becomes their new subconscious behaviour. What I didn’t know and have only begun to realise, is that taking on a stutter as your child’s unassuming speech therapist is emotionally draining and I’m beginning to wonder if I need some therapy for myself now!
I have written this small personal story as a way of supporting other parents of children who stutter and provide some insight into the rollercoaster of emotions treating it entails. It seems so simple, yet nobody forewarned me of what it would truly be like…
It all started when my son was about 2.5 years old and it became quite clear he had a stutter. My son had an exceptional vocabulary for his age. He had so much running through his mind and it seemed as though his brain was working 5 times faster than his mouth could produce the words. At first I ignored it. It seemed to make sense. He had all these words and thoughts that he wanted to express to me and he was so excited to tell me things that it all got stuck in his mouth and he couldn’t say it properly. He couldn’t get his words out as fast as his brain was moving. It made sense… But then it started to become quite severe.
My family members were well aware of it too. They would ask if I had noticed his stutter and quickly agreed that it was probably due to his fast moving mind and it will probably go away on it’s own.
But by the age of thee it continued to worsen. His mouth and face started to show tension when he would try to produce the word that was stuck. This was more than just a little bit of difficulty getting words out. It was painful to watch as he persisted through his stuttering to convey his vivid and imaginative thoughts. He was determined to say whatever it was that he wanted to say and I knew it was my job to make sure he could. It was my job to relieve him of this frustrating stutter interfearing with his ability to speak and express himself. This was effecting his life.
I sought help from a highly educated and experienced speech therapist. She assessed Jay and he was rated an 8/10 on the scale of severity- 1 being no stutter and 10 being the most extreme possible. My heart broke confirming what I already knew. Jay had a stutter and it was pretty damn severe. It was unlikely to spontaneously resolve. The brain matter and the neural pathways in his brain had somehow changed and had caused him to develop a stutter. We needed to start therapy and it was on my shoulders to provide it.
The Lidcombe Program…I went to univeristy at Sydney University’s Lidcombe campus. It’s where they taught all of the health sciences such as physio, speech pathology and occupational therapy. Little did I know that while I was studying to become a Physio, Speech therapists were researching and devising a program to treat stuttering. I was relieved to know that there was an evidence based therapy known to treat stuttering. It was best delivered at an early age and it had good outcomes which would hopefully produce stutter-free speech without re-emergence in the future. The therapist explained what my job was. I was told to do a “smooth talking game” once a day every day. Slowly the therapy would creep into other parts of my day and life. I would have to comment on his speech 20 times a day. I would have to encourage periods of stutter-free speech. Whether it was in the car, at the supermarket or around the dinner table I had to listen for his stutter and ask questions in such a way to receive a stutter-free response. I would have to ask him if he was speaking smoothly. I would correct him if he stuttered during our smooth talking games.
Every day we played our smooth talking game. I would comment positively on his speech while having to listen out for any stuttered or dysfluent speech. Daily I would rate his speech out of 10. Weekly we would go for a check up where his speech would be measured and the speech therapist would give me tips on how to deliver the therapy in the most beneficial way for Jay. What started out as a 10 minute a day commitment became an all day deeply emotionally draining responsibility. If his stuttering increased for a few days I blamed myself. Maybe I wasn’t delivering the therapy correctly. Maybe I wasn’t saying the right things. Then the therapist said to try doing the speech games twice a day and to increase my positive feedback outside of the twice daily play sessions.
I went home and cried. The time and emotional dedication I had to give to this therapy was beyond my expectations. I love my child more than anything. I would do anything for him and this was no exception. But I am writing this as a warning but also as confirmation that this Lidcombe Program is hard! It’s draining. It’s time consuming. You still have to be a mum to your child and their sibling, be a chef, be a cleaner, be a lego builder, be a train track designer, be everything your children want and need, be a wife, go to work and be a therapist from the moment you see your child in the morning til the moment they go to sleep at night.
Last week Jay was rated a 2/10. We have come a long way. We still have work to do and I’ve been told its probably going to be another 6 months before he will be stutter free. It scares me to know we still have a lot more therapy to go through but I know it will be worth it, I know my son is healthy and I know he will grow up not even remembering that he ever stuttered. And that is a true blessing.