Kirsty Haigh, on the challenges she faced when her son, Elliot, started stammering.
I’m not going to lie, being the parent of a child who stammers isn’t easy. It’s a test of patience, control, emotion and strength. But it is also an opportunity to share a journey, as you learn together as a family how to cope, enjoy and embrace life with a stammer.
I am the mother of a child who stammers: my son Elliot. I first noticed that Elliot didn’t speak fluently when he was three. He had an amazing vocabulary and I felt he mastered the art of conversation pretty easily. However, I noticed he stumbled on some words. At first, I thought it was a developmental phase and that it would pass. Health professionals said the same so I didn’t worry too much.
The overwhelming sense of wanting to stop your child from hurting is so painful.
It wasn’t until he started school, aged four, that it became a worry. I would hear other children his age speaking with parents and each other in a way that Elliot couldn’t. He seemed to be on the outside looking in. Other children would often ask, ‘Elliot, why do you speak funny?’, and Elliot would shrug, as he didn’t know why and thinking about it, neither did I.
I was hopeful that it would go away but thought it might be worth looking into to try and understand it. So my first port of call was Elliot’s teacher. She said she had noticed it in class but it wasn’t something that was holding him back, but if I did decide to pursue it, to keep her in the loop.
Next stop, the doctor. The doctor reassured me that it was a phase and would pass, which made me feel a little more relaxed about the situation, but I still wasn’t totally convinced. What if it didn’t go away? What if we couldn’t fix this?
As Elliot moved up a year at school and was still struggling, I decided to contact the speech and language therapy service myself in the hope, to be honest, that they could make it go away. I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed; it was more that my heart couldn’t take it when Elliot was always excluded, as he couldn’t keep up with conversations with his classmates. I wanted him to be popular and included. I could see his confidence start to fade. He became sad.
Speech therapy consisted firstly of a course for us grown-ups to get an understanding of why our child stammers. What I brought away from those classes was that many things affect stammering: some I could control and some I couldn’t and above all, I really needed to have incredible patience in order to help Elliot day to day.
Speech therapy has been amazing for us and has given me the confidence to speak up and raise awareness to make life easier for Elliot.
I was still clinging on to the hope that Elliot’s stammer would go away, as we were told that in some cases it does. The next round of therapy involved Elliot. We learned to desensitise Elliot to stammering, that it’s OK to stammer and it shouldn’t be hidden or fixed - we should just ‘let it be’. Let it be… this is not an easy lesson to learn. All I wanted for my son was for him to feel confident, and to do that, he needed friends. To keep friends, he needed to be able to communicate like them. It felt like we were stuck in a loop. The overwhelming sense of wanting to stop your child from hurting is so painful.
So, for my next plan: educate the children! I arranged for Elliot and I to go to ‘circle time’(when the class sits on the floor in a circle and learns something about one and other) and talk to the children about it. We all had a go at stammering and talked about why people stammer. I explained that Elliot just needs a bit more time to say something than everyone else. This was a milestone for us. Things started to change. From then on, following every round of speech therapy, we met with school staff to share what we had learnt so that they could learn too. Speech therapy has been amazing for us and has given me the confidence to speak up and raise awareness to make life easier for Elliot.
I’m not saying it has been an easy ride but Elliot, now aged 12 and in high school, has come on with his confidence and doesn’t let his stammer hold him back. Our recent parents’ evening proved this, with comments like, ”Elliot puts his hand up to answer questions”, and, ”Elliot is a friendly, chatty student”. I’m bursting with pride at how he’s learning to just be himself. Of course, I wish he didn’t stammer, as it comes with its challenges, but accepting that he does has been the biggest challenge; one which thankfully we overcame some years ago: his stammer is part of him and we embrace it.
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