The author opens the chapter with describing a trip to a French ice cream shop; she was looking so forward to it, but her stuttering ruined the ice cream. She wanted it in a sugar cone or a waffle cone, but ordered it in a cup because she knew she would likely stutter on the word ‘sugar’ and on ‘waffle’ as well. “The plastic spoon ruins it.” The scene is described so well and I felt such a pang of sorrow for her when I read it. As she and her parents walk home, she can sense that something is on their minds. They ask about her day and she answers using as little speech as possible, a coping technique she is using. “I have taken to starring in my own silent movie…..Having silenced myself, I’m becoming visibly depressed.” As they continue to walk and are nearing home, Katherine asks her parents what they were talking about the other night. They tell her they would like for her to attend speech therapy… a 2-week group session over the summer holiday. This startles Katherine and makes her feel she has ‘failed’ at growing out of something; she screams and cries and upon doing so, learns that when she is angry her speech is fluent. She eventually calms down and discusses the situation with her mother. Her mother says, “But, darling, we really want you to try out this speech therapy course. Your stammer, I mean your speech…..” The author discusses the negative connotations that the word ‘therapy’ held for her at that time….e.g. “It implies a level of madness, something uncontrollable that needs to be tamed. In my mind it is an accusation, something to be kept secret.” She also goes on to say the while she is angry, she is also relieved that her mother has put a name to her speech difficulty; “Deep down I am glad that someone has acknowledged that something is happening, that it has a name, that it might have a treatment. Because the silence is the most oppressive thing of all……I am strangling myself to talk… and no one is saying anything about it.” The author then describes her 2-week group therapy experience. She quickly saw the she was the only girl in the group. She describes how very nice the therapist was J. She describes trying hard during therapy but then venting at night by way of screaming at her mother. “The truth is that I don’t want to be part of the freak show. That is how I see it.” She and the other students start to progress. “In truth we are all improving in the strange confines of the therapy course. It is easy to improve in the safety of those four walls.” She has developed a bond with her peers; “As the end of the course approaches, that moment we have all longed for, we start to dread going back into the real word.” Katherine is fluent when she finishes the 2-week session. She is proud and so are her parents; “I am completely and utterly fluent…. My parents can’t shut me up.” She felt certain that her stutter was forever gone. Her joy and new-found confidence is short-lived, however. Two weeks following the course, she feels the stutter returning; “My stutter is more powerful that a few weeks with a kind speech therapist. It is stronger than she is, as stubborn as I am.” She describes what horrible feelings this brings; “My sense of self has been altered. I am an underachiever, a loser, and a disappointment.” She tells how she rebuilds the walls that she had created around her stutter and refuses to let anyone broach the subject; “I can handle my own guilt, but I
am ill-prepared to carry everyone else’s disappointment.” Katherine then has negative feelings about the therapy course, as she feels it has tricked her, letting her see “… what life would be like if I were normal.”
Thoughts on the Chapter:
This chapter covered so much in the way of emotions and coping mechanisms. During the time when her parents thought Katherine would likely grow out of the stuttering, they dealt with it appropriately, in a manner that was recommended by their pediatrician. The author talks about how many children who stutter do not have this same experience and are at times made to feel guilty about their stuttering.
Parent education is so important. I think that as SLPs we know more about this topic than we give ourselves credit for and what we know seems like common sense. It isn’t. Some parents will self-educate via Googling, etc. but we need to always take advantage of any opportunity to make sure they have correct information and that they feel confident in their knowledge of how to respond when a stuttering episode occurs.
What have your experiences been with parent education regarding fluency disorder?
When I read that Katherine was so relieved when her mother talked about Katherine’s speech problem.. .her ‘stammer’, a question that came to mind was:
When is the right time to directly discuss a child’s ‘bumpy speech’ with them?
Lastly, the author’s description of her first experience with speech therapy was interesting! I am looking forward to reading about her therapy journey and gaining her perspective.
Carrie Kaelin, MS-CCC
Ahrens Work Transition Program
Early Childhood Diagnostic Center