Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte’s web site and book Voice Unearthed have helped many parents find a new approach to dealing with their children’s stuttering. In this essay from the text Stammering Pride and Prejudice, she describes how, and why, she has sought to change the narrative around stuttering treatment for kids. Its title says it all: “Keep Kids Talking; The Impact of Shame for Children who Stutter.”
When her son began stuttering Dori took him to a speech therapist and began the mainstream method of teaching fluency techniques, guiding him in using the “toolbox” approach to achieve fluency, practicing slower speech and other methods that were supposed to eliminate stuttering.
The problem only got worse. Not only was her son still stuttering, he had become withdrawn and depressed. Dori started to investigate stuttering research and spoke to practitioners like Craig Coleman and Jerry Halvorson who looked beyond the traditional way of framing stuttering. The iceberg metaphor, popularized by Joseph Sheehan, depicts stuttering and its effects on a person as being mostly hidden from view. The public sees stuttering, but hidden below is shame and guilt and the emotions accompanying it.
Dori looked for an alternative to fluency-based treatment, and found it with Jerry Halvorson. He counseled Dori on adopting a different attitude towards her son's speech, and his treatment involved having the boy help out with chores around his farm and engaging in casual conversation without the pressure of using techniques. His indirect method helped her son connect with the joy of talking, of being engaged in life, and increase his self esteem and confidence.
When Dori’s son got older he confirmed that therapy had made him want to shut down and shut up, as there was so much shame and guilt around speaking. For Dori, the parents of a child who stutters need to be the focus of treatment, and adjusting their atttitudes away from the ideal of achievement of fluency above all else. The goal is to create confident kids with quality of life, coping strategies, and communication skills.