A year on, I cannot believe how far we have come
18th July 2022
It's been a year since Heather Brigden-McLean first sought support for her daughter's stammer. Here, she reflects on how things have been since then.
My name is Heather and my daughter Jasmine started to stammer before her 4th birthday. Recently I was checking through an old work diary and I found the stamma.org web address hastily scrawled on the diary page for 25th June 2021. When I saw this I couldn't believe it was over a year since we first reached out to STAMMA for help. This diary note may seem small and insignificant, but seeing it took me back to a time when I felt overwhelmed, full of panic and powerless to help.
A year on, I cannot believe how far we have come — but it hasn't always been easy.
Jasmine had delayed speech and trouble with speech sounds before going on to developing a stammer. It quickly escalated to a point where every sentence was a struggle and it broke our hearts to see her so frustrated. She often just gave up trying to speak as people couldn't understand her.
My whole outlook changed
The STAMMA website and its parent peer support groups gave us reassurance in those early months when there was no other help available. Getting the chance to speak with other parents on Zoom helped me to learn how important it was to talk to Jasmine about her stammer. I found there was a community of people who could help us understand what was happening.
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Once I realised we were not alone, and that speech therapy wasn't the only route for support, my whole outlook changed. Instead of fixating on trying to stop the stammer I started to track the characteristics of Jasmine's disfluency to see where I could support her more. I noted which situations she found more difficult, worked out that tiredness and busy environments made her stammer more, and I tried to tune into the pattern and rhythm of her speech to improve my understanding of her.
Whether Jasmine stammers or not, I want her to feel confident, comfortable, happy and relaxed...I want to hear her ideas, her dreams, her funny stories, her plans to slide down a giraffe's neck — I want to hear it all, no matter how long it takes her to get the words out.
Some days, speech was so hard for her that instead of talking we would just play Lego or do colouring — games that don't rely on speech to be fun or productive. Other days at bedtime after a tough day I would just lay in the dark quietly with her and found that this low distraction environment gave the space she needed to be more fluent. Hearing her little voice in the dark chatting away after watching her struggle was a hugely positive way for us both to end the day together.
Bit by bit I tried to change my thinking and manage her environment, instead of trying to get her to change her speech. After all, Jasmine is so young, and asking her to change something she doesn't even understand didn't make sense for us. Instead we would go out for dog walks and hunt for nature treasures, visit the playground, and limit too many people or noisy places. Being outdoors and in low pressure environments really helped Jasmine — she still stammered, but she could be understood and was less frustrated.
Starting school was a challenge as the environment is naturally busy, noisy and tiring. However, Jasmine is blessed to have a fantastic teacher who understands what she needs and has worked with us to try and create a positive and nurturing environment for her — whether she stammers or not.
And I guess this is really what I am trying to get at — whether Jasmine stammers or not, I want her to feel confident, comfortable, happy and relaxed. I want her to know she is perfect just as she is, and to be reassured that I am here on a bumpy day, on a fluent day, and every day in between to hear what she wants to say. I want to hear her ideas, her dreams, her funny stories, her plans to slide down a giraffe's neck — I want to hear it all, no matter how long it takes her to get the words out.
I now know how to help
I don't deny that we still have tough days, when I am away on business and Jasmine won't talk on the phone because words are too hard. Or when she is at a party and other children are too excited and noisy to allow her time to speak — these situations are tough. But the difference compared to a year ago is that I know how to reassure her; I know how to help, and Jasmine can describe how she is feeling. We are in this together, as a team, and as a family we will continue to advocate for her in a positive way at every opportunity, in the hope that this will empower her to go forwards without fear. And for days when it all gets too much there is still the back up of STAMMA to give us support, understanding, courage and ideas.
I don't deny that we still have tough days... But the difference compared to a year ago is that I know how to reassure her; I know how to help, and Jasmine can describe how she is feeling.
Since writing that diary note a year ago we have been on a rollercoaster. But with the help of the inspirational STAMMA community we have found a positive way to support Jasmine without asking the impossible of her. I have come to understand and cherish the rhythmic sound of Jasmine's chatter and I am so proud of how confidently she is exploring the world.
I don't know what the future holds for her stammer, but that doesn't seem to matter so much now. We just let her be. She knows that we are behind her 100% of the way — stammer or not — and we know that the brilliant STAMMA community will be 100% behind us as parents too.
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