by Barbara Shannon
Editor’s Note: The following is a reflection given by a parent at the FRIENDS workshop at Hofstra University in May.
I am the parent of an adult who stutters. Having been asked to speak, I was a little anxious at first, because I haven’t spoken in front of a large group in several years. Thinking about that, made me more aware of and sensitive to the challenge and struggle that my son, and others who stutter, must face on a daily basis.
As I thought about what I wanted to share, I began to think of what I could say in telling my story that could make a difference to anyone who listens to it. Hopefully, there will be something from my experience that you may identify with, or perhaps, learn from. I know that it has been and continues to be a learning experience for me. My son, Bill, has been the one who has helped me and taught me the most.
As a young child, Bill really didn’t stutter, or if he did, it was very rare. He was a class leader, quite verbal, very successful in school. It wasn’t until middle school or perhaps high school that his stuttering became more evident and frequent. Even now, when I speak to close family members or friends who knew Bill well, they don’t remember him having difficulty expressing himself or engaging in conversation. I know now, that this was because Bill was able to get by” by saying only a few words, perhaps not even the ones he really wanted to say most. I know now, that he had so much to say, so much to share, yet was unable to.
As parents, when we did hear Bill stutter, we chose to ignore it, thinking that that was the best way to send him the message that it was okay with us. We always tried to be patient, listening to him, and waiting for him to finish speaking. We spoke with him and never referred to his stuttering. I think my background in education and behavior modification taught me that by ignoring it and not focusing on the stuttering, he would stutter less than if we brought attention to it. Not knowing much about stuttering, its causes, and its treatment, I see now that it may not have been the most helpful approach. We didn’t know that he was already aware of, and had experienced negative reactions from others outside of the home environment. Unfortunately, as a parent, I had no idea of the emotional pain and fear he was exposed to and had to face each day.
Bill was a quiet teenager. He was perceived as a “man of a few words,” and fit the stereotype of the “strong, si- lent male.” In retrospect, I see that he often said less than he probably wanted to say, and often substituted words and phrases for those, which he would have preferred to say. Many times I am sure, he may not have been able to express his real opinion, or offer the knowledge which he possessed on a given subject.
While in high school, he focused on his music. He was a wonderful bass player, and I believe that he used his music as a vehicle for expression. As a parent, I was very proud of his talent, and glad to see him enjoying it so much, and being so successful at it.
Bill and I shared a lot, and spoke …often, but he never spoke about his stuttering until late in high school, or perhaps even college. It was about that time that he began to seek therapy, and unfortunately tried programs with promises and goals that were not beneficial to him.
Bill went to one of the best high schools in the country, so I had confidence in the education that he was receiving. Bill was then, and is, an extremely intelligent young man, but at times, not a very successful student. When he was having problems in school, withdrawing from classes, acting out, no one ever identified the problem as being related to his stuttering. At one point, I spoke to a speech therapist to ask about his stuttering, and she responded by telling me that it was not a problem for him because he used “circumlocution.” Not knowing much about stuttering, I believed that this was okay and nothing needed to be addressed.
Sometimes we trust others to make decisions or give us information in an area that is supposed to be their expertise. I have since learned that it is important as a parent to be more proactive in learning all that you can, and to help your child to find the best therapists and therapy. It is important to ask questions, and seek answers. There is so much more information and support now than there was when Bill was in high school. You are fortunate, because now there are more support systems available for those who stutter and their families, more opportunities like this one, for communication and education.
After Bill graduated from high school, he went on to college. He was taking a speech class, and I recall that he had to take it a second time because he didn’t pass the first time. This was not because of his knowledge, but because of the avoidance and fear brought on by his stuttering. By then we had talked more about his stuttering, and, realizing that it would be difficult for him to complete the final assignment, I offered to contact the teacher or suggested that he do so, to see if she could offer another assignment in its place, or perhaps work with him independently. He said he would handle it.
I think that it is sometimes hard for parents, especially as your children grow, to know when to intervene and when to allow them to handle things on their own. You want so much to protect them, yet you also know that you have to encourage them to move forward and sup- port them as they do so. You want to assist them in building confidence and yet part of you, sometimes because of your own fears and lack of understand- ing, has difficulty doing so. I have also learned that sometimes children try to protect their parents by not sharing with them, so they “‘don’t worry.”
For parents of young children, you are at a good place, because you are here, and have obviously begun to question, to learn, to seek help from professionals, and support from other parents.
For children who are here, you are also in a good place, because you and your parents can make choices together and learn together as you move in a forward direction. It is so important for both parents and children to talk about their experiences, their successes as well as their concerns. Communication is essential.
Above all, I have learned that the most important factor is acceptance, both self acceptance and acceptance by parents, family members, and friends, letting you know that it is okay to stutter. It is important to realize that fluency is not the answer, but rather success in the ability to communicate and building confidence in doing so.
For my son, Bill, I think that is what changed every thing for him: acceptance. Through his experiences with the SSMP and Friends, he met people who believed in him, and encouraged him to believe in himself.
Previously, he had researched and tried several types of therapy, but I think what worked for him was one that encouraged him to accept his stuttering and not deny, hide or fight it. He gave himself permission to be and to see the wonderful person he truly is, freedom to be himself, and to fully express his thoughts, ideas and feelings.
I am so proud of Bill, and all that he has accomplished. He continues to teach me so much. I truly believe now, that this was his path, his journey to where he is today. As he continues on his journey, as he follows his heart, I know that he will undoubtedly make a positive difference in the lives of so many others.
Editor’s Note: Bill Shannon is a VERY supportive member of FRIENDS and is now studying to be an SLP.
This article is from Reaching Out, June 2004