by Lee Ann Kincade
I am blessed to have two beautiful and healthy sons. My oldest, Jonathan, is nine and from my first marriage. The youngest is James, four, and from my present marriage. Both are very normal boys in most respects: love to ride bikes, love chocolate and pizza, and hate naps but want to stay up as late as possible.
Jonathan does have one special trait. He has been stuttering since age six. James has never shown any signs of speech problems and there is no family history of stuttering. Jon’s disfluency has manifested itself in frequent elongations and word repetitions. He has received most of his speech therapy from school speech programs.
Through trial, error and time, the entire family has come to a greater understanding and ability to communicate regarding Jonathan’s stuttering. Recently, we gave up intensive therapy and our hope for a “cure,” thus releasing Jon from the outside pressure to speak a certain way. This has allowed all of us to relax about the stuttering. Jonathan’s speech is what it is. What he has to say has become much more important than the way he says it.
Both of my sons have been quite fortunate to have made some good play buddies. Several weeks ago, my four-year-old had one of his friends from preschool over for the afternoon. Jeremy, the friend, had met Jonathan once before at a birthday party but had not noticed the stuttering. Jon had not spoken very much. This party occurred during a time when Jonathan was very self-conscious of his stuttering and was refusing to talk to most people outside the family. At the second encounter in our home, Jon was feeling much more relaxed and less self-conscious because we had been making great efforts to de-emphasize any efforts to speak completely fluently in hopes of a return to more talking.
Jonathan decided that he wanted to play with his brother and schoolmate on this particular day. He was speaking openly and enjoying himself, despite his frequent breaks and elongations. Watching the play for a moment, I noticed Jeremy was looking questionably at Jon. I asked him if he was noticing the way in which Jonathan was talking. He answered, “Yes.”
At this juncture, I looked at Jon and asked him if he would like to take the opportunity to explain his stuttering to Jeremy, or if he would rather I did it. Jeremy was honestly curious. Surprisingly very comfortable about the question, Jon said he wanted me to explain. I proceeded to do just that. After a brief and simple explanation of Jon’s stops, starts, and the general nature of stuttering, I saw that all was well and everyone satisfied. I excused myself and let the boys get back to play. Jon was contented and Jeremy seemed to let the issue go and was not bothered by the speech any longer.
This was the first time I had ever taken this approach. It will not be the last. I knew Jonathan was quite aware that people, especially other kids, questioned his speech. I have been aware of this fact. This experience demonstrated to both of us how relieved we were to be able to explain it so casually to others, demystifying it to them and to ourselves.
This kind of self-confidence and acceptance of themselves is what I long for, for both my sons. Jon’s perseverance and self-acceptance is of the utmost concern to all of us. Helping him to share himself with others and feel understood was and continues to be a goal for our family.