My son Cooper will be four years-old next month. He has blonde hair and dimples, with his daddy’s eyes and his mama’s eyebrows. He’s bright, funny, shy, and testing his boundaries on a daily basis. He loves cars, superheroes, Pixar movies, and macaroni & cheese. And he stammers.
It’s very common for toddlers to stutter as they’re learning to speak. They often get so excited over new discoveries that their mouths can barely catch up with their brains. We read up on it and talked to his pediatrician and then didn’t worry about it. Early childhood stuttering usually disappears within six months.
In Cooper’s case, it’s been going on for over a year. So we made an appointment for him to be evaluated by a speech pathologist. She was very impressed by his vocabulary, but even I could see that he became reluctant to identify items on her flash cards, once he realized that we were focused on his speech. And for days afterward, his stammering became much more pronounced and he would refuse to say words that he’d said a hundred times before, as if afraid of stuttering over them. It was heartbreaking.
Then the diagnosis came: moderate fluency impairment. It’s very hard to not think “wow, we screwed him up fast”. The King’s Speech aside, most experts don’t seem to think that parents actually cause stammering. But what if it is our fault? Was it our repeated insistence to “use your words”? Or the many times we’ve tried to instill better manners by having him repeat himself so as to ask for snacks and TV shows instead of demanding? Was it the genetic combination of my mild OCD and Rob’s anxiety?
And here we are now. Paying $75 a week (which insurance doesn’t cover, since his impairment is not the result of a birth defect - see? The insurance company thinks it’s our fault too!) for Cooper to meet with a speech therapist. She’s made suggestions for behavior modification we can try at home. She thinks we should speak more slowly, pausing for 1-2 seconds before responding to a question or a comment from him, and decrease the amount of questions that we ask (instead of directly asking questions like "Which color do you want?", she suggests rephrasing them as a statement like "I wonder what color you want.") The idea is that these modifications will help to create a more relaxed conversation environment, and decrease time pressure to communicate. This is a very difficult challenge for people who choose to speak in 140 characters or less.
So my precious, beautiful child, who is pretty much perfect in every way (except for the occasional epic toddler meltdown) is learning that it’s okay to communicate more slowly. And mommy and daddy are endeavoring to do the same.