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SLP Corner: Why Does My Child Not Stutter in Front of His Speech Therapist?

Ask the Expert by Gary Rentschler, PhD, CCC-SLP
This article was written for parents of stutterers. It would be an excellent choice to share with the parents of the students you treat.

All material Copyright © 2008 The National Stuttering Association
Reprinted with the express permission of the National Stuttering Association as originally published on their website for their July-August Family Voices Newsletter

By: Gary Rentschler
Gary Rentschler serves as Director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech- Language Pathology

Dear Ask the Expert: Why does my son not stutter in front of his speech-language pathologist?
Stuttering is a problem with many inconsistencies, peculiarities, and behaviors that are sometimes hard to explain. Your observation about your son’s fluency in therapy is not uncommon… but sometimes I’m asked the other side of this question –

Why does my son stutter so much more at home?
We observe that the frequency of stuttering often fluctuates depending upon the situation, communication partner, and various other factors. There are considerable differences among speakers who stutter; some are impacted more by the person they are speaking with, while others have more difficulty in one situation compared to another. In stuttering clinic, clients often speak very fluently with their clinician in the clinic, yet struggle with their stuttering outside in the real world. I think a large part of this is the client feeling comfortable with the clinician in the clinical setting because “the secret” (Hey, I stutter!) is known to the clinician and everyone at the clinic. Trying to hide it usually creates additional angst and stress.

This is why we sometimes encourage clients to disclose their stuttering to others, because it can reduce the tension created by worrying if the listener will react to their stuttering. In some cases, the effect is very dramatic. I have a friend I invite to talk to my stuttering class; after introducing him as a person who stutters, he has no difficulty speaking and is fluent for the entire 90 minutes! When this effect is dramatic it says to me as a clinician that the client’s feelings and emotions about his stuttering comprise a significant component of his disability. Learning to disclose your stuttering in a way that maintains your dignity can be a very valuable tool toward overcoming the impact you allow your stuttering to have. But many stutter more at home where everyone knows about their stuttering – which seems to contradict the reasons just offered. There are at least two divergent explanations for this.

First, stuttering usually develops while living at home and thus home can be strongly associated with stuttering. As a consequence, it may be harder to overcome this association than other environmental factors. So the home may be the place where employing newly acquired fluency happens latter, rather than sooner. An alternative explanation is that home is a “safe haven” in which the person who stutters feels secure enough to “be themselves”, feeling accepted for who they are, and loved even though they stutter. There is no need for pretense or to hide their stuttering. “I can be who I am because I am loved here.” Neither explanation carries with it any elements of good/ bad or blame; its just part of the uniqueness of stuttering.

So, why does your son not stutter with his speech-language pathologist?
Likely because she has created an atmosphere in which he feels ‘okay’ about his stuttering and they can talk about it, and work on it together. Parents sometimes feel that should be their role — the person their child can come to for anything. I once thought that I should be the one to teach my wife to drive my ‘stick shift’ car. Big mistake! So maybe there are times we need to be more pragmatic and just be thankful that our children have found someone to turn to help them with a problem. Its ironic that sometimes it’s easier telling our secrets to a “stranger” than to the ones we are closest to. Talking about our innermost secrets is not easy; but the potential benefits can be truly immense. Please recognize that both you and your son are fortunate to have this clinician as a resource – like my friend who taught my wife to drive my car, sparing a trip to divorce court!

Featured Organization: The National Stuttering Association

We thank the National Stuttering Association for allowing us to reprint their copyrighted article. For more information about this organization please visit the National Stuttering Association


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