Chapter 1 Creation Myth

The author, Katherine Preston, begins Chapter 1 of Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice by telling her memory of the “day she lost her voice.” She was 7 years old and dressed in a beautiful ballerina birthday costume. It first happened in an interaction with her godmother, Joey. Even though she doesn’t say anything and still showers hugs and praise on her, Katherine cannot help but notice the hesitancy on Joey’s face. Katherine shares in this chapter a few stories of “how I began to stutter” from people she interviewed for this book-falling from a tree, a tonsillectomy resulting in a high fever. I really began to wonder about reasons my clients have told me over the years. Have you heard any really weird “reasons” people began to stutter? She realizes hers did not suddenly appear, but was always there, lurking just under the surface. She tells of an SLP’s report when she was 5 years old that indicates she was having difficulty with certain letters and her mother’s reports of always speaking fast. Seven years old, was also the year Katherine’s ailing grandmother came to live with them and died four months later. The connection was made between grandmother’s traumatic death as the cause for Katherine’s stuttering (repressed emotion). Hearing the long laundry list of secondary behaviors Katherine employed over the years was kind of heartbreaking (pinching her leg, tracing the outline of a letter, swallow before speaking, stamping foot, flicking head, squeezing eyes). Even though I’ve seen or heard many of them before, hearing her account was truly sad. I’m sure you have all seen them, too. Has anyone had a really unusual secondary behavior? There were a few sentences in this chapter that helped me to look at stuttering in a more empathetic manner: “…stuttering is a motor control glitch. The glitch sets off a major fear response because our breathing system, our body’s mechanism to keep us alive, is being attacked. So the fear escalates and feeds the stutter.”

Kathy McKenzie-Hensley

Norton Commons Elementary


9 thoughts on “Chapter 1 Creation Myth

  1. Lauren Gillenwater says:

    The secondary behaviors I’ve seen most frequently are eye blinking, hand movements, and foot stamping. A lot of parents that have first become concerned about fluency report changes in both speech characteristics and other behaviors.

  2. Christine Scally says:

    That “motor control glitch” explanation she gives is so easy to understand and so economically worded. I loved it. I’m preparing to do some formal(ish) training with teachers at Waller and I just glommed onto that description. It’s so helpful to have a purely physical response explanation to work with to talk about stuttering with them, especially because these are EBD students and it is so easy to attach everything they do everything directly to their trauma or mental illness. All (2 so far)of my fluency students have objectives to be able to describe what stuttering is. Their classrooms are such bullying minefields– I want them to be able to define stuttering for themselves and their peers.

  3. Katie Cohen says:

    Like Kathy, I also like how the author mentions breathing; that stuttering “messes with the ballet of breathing”. This year, I have focused a couple sessions with my 2 fluency groups on the process of speaking. Students created a list of body parts that are used in speaking and traced each others upper torso and head to label the “speaking” parts. Each student created his own drawing of the human body with labels on the discussed body parts to keep in his speech folder. It has been a joy to observe the increased awareness students have, like when they held a hand in front of their mouth and felt air during speaking. Or when they watched a youtube video clip of vocal folds via stroboscope.
    Also, I have 3 students within these groups who are just beginning speech therapy. So, this was a really nice activity to level the playing field at the beginning of the year, especially since the newer kiddos aren’t knowledgable of strategies, like my former students, and were, at that time, somewhat less confident in their speaking. I prefaced this at one of our first sessions with an analogous activity of writing a recipe, ingredients list, and crafting a pizza made out of construction paper to symbolize that just like making pizza, making speech requires parts (ingredients) and a process (recipe).

  4. Rachel lacap says:

    This chapter just broke my heart. To Katherine, it felt like stuttering just “happened” one day, but she later found out that her parents had seen doctors, etc a few years before this memory with some concerns but they kept it hidden from her. Prior to that day with her godmother, Katherine stuttered, but she did not notice it and it did not bother her. Therefore, she did not develop the severe blocks and phonatory arrests that began occuring once her anxiety set in.

    That is always my fear with fluency therapy….that I will indeed make it worse by drawing even more attention to the child’s stutter, when right now, they are able to get through their stutter with little secondary characteristics.

  5. Kristin Jansen says:

    The cause of stuttering is something I wish was clear to me. Whether Katherine’s memory of the exact moment she “lost her voice” is accurate or just a reconstructed story based on her thoughts about it over and over and over, the true cause still unknown. We are often told a traumatic event in one’s life can be deemed the cause and that itself may be accurate, however, I just wish I had a true understanding of “why?” I’ve always be perplexed as to how a traumatic event can cause stuttering? Katherine’s story is another occurrence of this explanation. When will the next traumatic event in someone’s life change their ability to communicate effectively?

  6. Kim Raho says:

    Yes it’s interesting that so many people who stutters have said that introducing themselves and saying their name is the hardest for them. No matter what letter it starts with. I can only think it’s the built up fear and anticipation of what will happen. Just like so many of us feel in our own anxious situations. It’s true it seems like fear of the unknown is worse than the actual thing itself.

  7. LIsa Ehrie says:

    One of the passages that stuck with me in this chapter is when she stated, “For most of the world the act of speaking is something barely considered; it is a subconscious event that happens as naturally as walking. However, whether or not we are aware of it or not, it is a tremendous event every time we decide to speak.” I agree that most people probably do take their speaking for granted and never even consider it a gift. We never think to thank our lucky stars we can speak “easily”. But for people who stutter, speaking is like a disease with no cure.

  8. allison forrester says:

    This chapter was heartbreaking to me as well. I think her descriptions of stuttering and the emotions tied to those moments allow me to truly imagine how she feels or what it may feel like to stutter. I can only imagine the anxiety that would surface around almost every encounter that involved communication throughout every day.

  9. Lexie Cunningham says:

    I keep going back to page 33, where Katherine states that choosing to be silent made her a “normal” kid in school. That goes back to the conundrum of adverse impact for me. We consider a student not actively participating and speaking in class adversely impacting their academic success, yet a student like Katherine is choosing not to speak. We don’t treat selective mutism in the school sytsem. So… what do we do with our stutterers who choose not to speak??

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