First off: It’s not your fault! I just needed to share that. I found out when I was 25 that my mother always blamed herself for my stutter. It was because of something ridiculous that a doctor told her when she began taking me to specialists. So, stop beating yourself up. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about your child.

Nobody really knows why children stutter. I read something once that said 1% of all children stutter. Of that 1%, 80% lose the stutter around puberty. The other 20%? I have some thoughts about that.

I’m part of the 20%. I started talking young, at about 10 months old, but it was not until a later that my mother picked up on it. At 43, I still stutter.  I did speech therapy classes all through grade school, but stopped in high school. I hated them. I didn’t like being “different” and leaving class for my own appointments.

There is really no correlation between therapy and the stutter “going away” at puberty. Therapy can help your child deal with it though. There are exercises and “tricks” to improve fluency. But it is extra work, and what child really wants to do homework?  I sometimes look back and wonder if my laziness prolonged the dysfluency or, at the very least, made it worse. The ones I remember the most were the ones that my mother did with me at home. She still remembers speaking while drawing squares in the air.

My family and friends were very supportive. One thing that I hated was being told to relax. To this day, being told to relax makes me stutter worse. It sets off a defense mechanism in me, makes me notice it more and forces me to tense up even more. Yes, your child will be better off learning to relax when speaking, but, as the old saying goes: show, don’t tell. Create an environment for them to speak without worrying about being told to relax, rushed, or cut off. Let them say what they want to say.  What they need to say. Patience is the key. I know this can be difficult with any child but…

This brings me to the part that you might not want to hear but it needs to be said and I won’t sugar coat it. Your child is different, and they have special needs. They are going to have a harder time at things. They are going to be picked on, teased, and tortured. Kids can be cruel. Cruel kids can have parents that allow them to be that way—to put it nicely. You have to be more aware of the special needs of your child, and the unique effects that go along with having a stutter. Are they isolating themselves? Are they depressed? Are they stunting their emotional and social growth? Are they escaping into unhealthy things?

On the same hand, though, “special” does not mean “deficient.” Don’t underestimate your child. I was supposed to go to a “special” school—we’re talking mid-70’s here. That’s when my grandmother put her foot down and I was sent to regular school with all of the other regular kids. In 1st grade I was reading at a 5th grade level and my math skills weren’t far behind. Your child’s communication skills might be behind, but their other skills still need to be nourished at their own level.  

I’m just throwing this out here because it is something I’ve thought about for years. The mechanisms of fluency extend beyond the mouth and articulating words. I know when I have been the most fluent (and when I remember what I have learned) it is about posture and breathing. A book about the Alexander Technique can help. It is actually used in acting classes—where I learned about it. My point, however, is the martial arts.

I’ve always wondered about the martial arts as an aid for kids who stutter. It is not about “kicking butt” or the showy stuff you see on tv. It is all based upon self-defense in the right dojo, but is far, far more.

First, it’s a lot of fun and can be a healthy, lifelong habit. A very good friend of mine has been practicing it for 40 years now. You can tell simply by the way he walks that there is something different.

Martial arts is in a social environment where respect for self and others is the core, where differences can be embraced. Also, it is centered around good posture and breathing: two of the keys for fluency. Karate is the most common, but Aikido and Tai Chi, the “softer” martial arts, focus on it even more. Just a thought.

I know one friend’s son who had a bad stutter and she started him on martial arts. He barely stutters now and, most importantly to me, does not care when he does.

I guess I should throw this out there as well: I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who stutters. So please just consider all of this “things to think about and maybe pass by a specialist.”

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