According to the Oxford dictionary, the word “Stutter” is defined as: “talk with continued involuntary repetition of sounds, especially initial consonants.” Prior to 2007, if asked to define the above term, I probably would have replied with a similar response. It wasn’t something that I would have ever thought about, I didn’t know someone who stuttered, nor did I stutter myself. It wasn’t something that affected my life or my family’s life so therefore, I was ignorant to its meaning.
In spring of 2007 our life was busy but wonderful-we had three children, a new puppy and a new home. Our morning started the same as it always did, slight chaos trying to get everyone fed and encouraging our oldest son Kyle to eat his breakfast and get ready for school. Kyle was one of those kids who was always happy and thankfully extremely well behaved and respectful. He constantly smiled and had the most outgoing personality. His sense of humor was second to none even at such a young age. He loved to laugh and sing and make jokes.
That particular morning, I noticed very quickly that as he spoke to me, he seemed to be quite repetitive with his sounds at the beginning of each word. Kyle noticed as well and asked me “What’s wrong with my words Mommy?” Seeing as everything else was normal about our morning and with Kyle-i.e.: his appetite, his behavior, etc., I convinced myself it was nothing. After all, many friends had children who had some form of speech repetition as their speech developed and I thought that possibly he just hadn’t slept well and was overtired. It wasn’t until he returned home from school and was still having the word repetition that I began to worry. Again, I reassured myself that maybe it was just overtiredness and made sure he had a good night’s sleep that evening. When he awoke the next morning still having difficulty getting his words out properly, we decided to take him to our local hospital to be checked.
The Start of a Journey
Little did we know that that would be the beginning of Kyle’s speech journey. From that day forward, Kyle went through several medical tests which all came back clear and inconclusive as to why his speech changed overnight. We spent the next 6 years filled with countless hours of meeting with and speaking to literally every SLP on Prince Edward Island. As parents, we read article after article and researched every possible cause of and treatment for speech disorders. When Kyle first started speech therapy, everyone was very hopeful and told us that statistically if stuttering begins and is treated at a younger age, the chances of the child outgrowing the stutter is greater. Every SLP we spoke with felt confident that with Kyle being the age that he was, they surely could offer assistance and have a positive outcome.
As time went on and the years went by, we were told that Kyle’s stutter was more than likely something he would deal with for the rest of his life. It became more difficult to find a SLP on PEI who was willing to work with him once they found out his age. We were told numerous times that there really wasn’t much that could be done now that Kyle was a teenager as there was no “fixing his stutter.” Having someone look at you and tell you that whatever it is that is wrong cannot be fixed is devastating. It most definitely took its toll on Kyle.
Around the age of 12, Kyle’s stutter pattern changed from being repetitive to full on blocking. Instead of simply repeating sounds, Kyle was now unable to produce any type of sound at all. He would spend what seemed like an eternity trying to “push” through his blocks to the point of turning purple and running out of breath. Up until this point he had still been attempting to speak at times to friends, teachers, family etc. However, once the blocking began, he no longer attempted to speak at all.
Falling into Isolation
Throughout these years of countless hours of speech therapy, I watched my sweet Kyle change and little by little become more and more withdrawn. The child that I spoke about in the beginning …the one who used to laugh and make jokes and who was always happy was now replaced with someone who was anxious, withdrawn, introverted etc. He no longer chose to join in on family conversations or at times attend family functions. He chose not to leave the house unless it was with me (Mom) and at times would even wait in the vehicle while I ran into stores to run errands. He 100% stopped speaking at school and no longer went out with friends to do anything. His carefreeness was replaced with rigidity and the need for routine. Kyle allowed himself to fall deeper and deeper into isolation.
As a teenager, he watched his peers advance while he sat on the sidelines. Many of them obtained part time jobs giving them the opportunity to earn an income. About a year ago, Kyle agreed to attempt to work at a family owned sports store in order to try and earn some money. The plan was that he would be on the floor to help tidy and retrieve things from the stockroom as needed. Sadly, customers would approach him and ask questions and Kyle was unable to answer them. He would try so hard but could not get anything to come out. He watched as many of his friends entered relationships and told me that he’d never be able to have a girlfriend because who would date someone who couldn’t talk to them. He sat in class unable to give presentations like the rest of his peers or answer questions asked by the teachers. The simplest of tasks such as ordering food at a restaurant, making a purchase at a store, introducing himself were not something that was attainable to Kyle.
Academically Kyle has excelled. He has placed expectations upon himself that seemed beyond measure but somehow, he always seemed to meet them. Each semester we would meet with Kyle’s upcoming teachers and chat with them about Kyle’s speech. Sadly, many of them had never dealt with someone who stuttered or was unable to communicate so something like this was new to them. Adaptations were put in place where Kyle was not required to get up in front of the class and present but instead submit all his work in an electronic or written state.
Sharing Thoughts and Feelings
So as parents, we had two choices: 1) We could admit defeat and accept the fact that we failed in our attempts to “fix” Kyle’s stutter or 2) We could take a step back and realize that all along, we had spent so much time trying to repair something that never needed fixing in the first place. Let me say that again…we spent so much time trying to repair something that never needed fixing in the first place. It became so unmistakably clear that we had to choose # 2 and it was then that the true shift in mindset occurred. We realized that although at times, Kyle’s speech journey was difficult, there were many moments filled with joy along the way. There were moments of success and moments of defeat, moments of fear but also moments of hope. There was an immense realization that despite the difficulties, Kyle’s stutter was a gift to each of us. As a family, we learned to be so much more compassionate to other’s struggles. We were taught to give others the time they needed to share their thoughts as well as to look for and appreciate unique qualities of others.
Finding Community at the CSA Conference
For Kyle, acceptance played a huge role. Accepting that although his stutter is very much a part of who he is, it 1000% does not define who he is. He now fully knows that it is what he has to say that matters and not how he says it. Over the years, Kyle’s stutter has led us to become members of a community of people who also stutter. In October of 2022, Kyle and I attended our first Canadian Stuttering Association Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. We had the privilege of meeting some of the most incredible and resilient people who all share the same struggles, some of whom stutter themselves and others who have the privilege of parenting someone who stutters. We were immediately welcomed into a beautiful extended family and it has been such an incredible experience.
As Kyle enters his last year of his science degree in University with honours, it is more than clear that his story is literally just beginning and as his Mom, I couldn’t be happier to have a front row seat to what comes next.