I’ve been thinking long and hard for the last few days about writing this post. Should I or shouldn’t I be putting this on public space has been a question that has been haunting me for some time now. I even asked a few other bloggers whether I should be doing this post. (You know who you are. Thanks a ton for the suggestions!) And, finally today, I’ve decided to take the plunge. My biggest reason for writing it down is that it will be helpful for other parents who are in the same boat as me.
I am talking about stuttering or stammering in children.
A year or so ago, we encountered a lot of changes in our life. We moved homes. The kids moved schools. I started staying at home with them. The kids made newer friends in the apartment here. And, so on. Everything was going well until one day we realised Kuttan was struggling to say a few words together without stuttering. It didn’t really bother him much, initially. And, so we thought it would get better on its own in due course, too. But slowly, his stuttering grew to an alarming level that he would begin saying something, stutter endlessly and give up in the end even speaking his mind. This sight.. This was what made me realize that his condition needed medical intervention; or in other words therapy.
One fine day, we fixed an appointment with our pediatrician and were about to leave to the hospital. Just then, on a whim, we called his class teacher to ask her feedback about it. I really don’t know how to thank her for the help she has been/she still is till today. His teacher asked us to drop our scheduled appointment and wait for some more time until she figured out how to tackle this. A couple of days later, she called us to tell us about a therapist who comes to their school for catering to other children (with special needs). And that, she would talk to the therapist (let’s call her K) and let me know the outcome.
His teacher observed Kuttan and also made K observe him. And then, we (the husband and me) went to the school to meet K. All of us sat down and discussed the causes and reasons for this problem in him. K assured me that Kuttan’s hearing skills are intact which meant that this stuttering problem could only be a result of all the changes he went through before the school began. New friends. New environment. New language. Everything had contributed to his current state. Also, what we (the teacher and me) observed was that he was stuttering more when in a group and competing for the attention of others. Further more, his stuttering was limited to words beginning with a few vowels like a, o, e only.
Now, the bigger question was how were we going to sort this out. K gave us a few suggestions to help him speak better –
1. The biggest and the most important of all is not completing the sentences for him and let him finish what he intended to say. Give him the time to think through what he wanted to say and not jump the gun ourselves.
2. Do not keep reminding him about the fact that he stutters. It is very important to assure him that he is normal.
3. Soothe him with calming music. Like, play some melodic instrumental music when he wakes up so that it calms his mind.
4. Speak to him in a mix of Tamil (our mother tongue!) and English. I was very apprehensive about using dual languages and was wondering whether that could confuse him further. But K was very sure that the child needs to learn both the languages and also has the capacity to do it. And so, it is advisable to talk to the kid in Tamil while also occasionally using English while conversing with him.
5. K gave us some breathing exercises and asked all of us (Ammu, Kuttan and me) to do it together to not make him feel aloof.
6. Read a lot of books to him; which we were doing but the wrong way. I had this habit of reading the book in English and then, translating it into Tamil for the kids to understand. K told me that this was such a wrong way of doing it and this would only confuse the child. She asked me to read the books completely in English and assured me that the child could in fact comprehend it as that’s what he does in school.
7. While on reading, K asked us not to clarify doubts the child asks but let him decipher the meaning by himself. She believes that this will help the child learn better.
So, for the last eight months or so, we’ve been following all these both at home and at school. Kuttan’s teacher has been of immense help in this regard. She has been a great pillar of support giving us suggestions and helping Kuttan herself when in school.
After eight months of efforts, we see a considerable change in Kuttan. I cannot say Kuttan is completely okay. There are phases where in he stutters a lot. But then, there are also phases where in he talks long sentences without a hint of any hindrance. A lot of people who converse with him may not even be able to realize that he has a stuttering problem.
This year, we have vowed we’ll not subject him to any more changes. Friends, school, family, environment – nothing is going to change. A small part of me which wants to get back to work has already given up the idea. Not that I believe that stuttering is a big problem to overcome; it is not. I know of a few adults who stutter but are successful people in their careers and are awesome people personally to deal with. But as parents, I don’t want to lag even a little in our efforts to help Kuttan come out of this stuttering phase. Which might take some time and effort; although I am sure, he will succeed eventually. Fingers crossed.