My Daughter Has Developed a Stutter…And I'm Trying Not to Panic
My 28-month-old daughter has always been extremely verbal, and quite smart—putting words together before 18 months and speaking in complex sentences by the time she reached the two-year mark. As she has grown, my parenting worries have gone from "I hope and pray she is developmentally on track" to "How the hell am I going to keep up with this kid?"
That is, until a month or so ago, when, basically overnight, she went from a clear and articulate toddler to a stuttering two-year-old. I've heard of this happening before and that it isn't entirely abnormal for a child to start stuttering at this age, so I did what all the parenting articles tell you to do—I ignored it.
But within two weeks, she went from getting hung up on the first word in a random sentence to struggling for 15 to 20 seconds on multiple words in one sentence, while she scrunched up her face and asked me, "Mommy, why isn't my mouth working?"
It killed me.
Actually, no, it felt like someone had taken my heart out of my chest and then kicked me in it. Seeing my child struggle caused this aching pain in my chest that is comparable to nothing I've ever felt before. And despite my greatest attempts not to, I let my mind go to the place that parents should avoid letting their minds go to at all costs: the unforeseeable future.
In my mind, I had her stuttering at school, and all the kids around making fun of her. I saw her giving a presentation in front of her class and not being able to get a word out without struggle. I envisioned her trying to ask a friend to come over and play, and the friend laughing in her face. All of this only made the aching in my heart worse.
But I knew that wasn't going to help anyone, so I pulled myself up by my journalist bootstraps and decided to do what I always do when I encounter something I know little about: research, talk to experts and come up with a game plan. I made a "stuttering" folder in my email, and I dove in.
Luckily, my close college friend is a speech pathologist, so I ran everything by her, and she said I wasn't being a crazy parent and that it was, in fact, time to stop ignoring it and to address it. A colleague of hers told me to tell my daughter that "some kids have bumps in their speech when they are learning to speak, and that is what is happening to you" and that "it's OK to have the 'bumps,'" and that I'll listen no matter how long it takes or how many bumps there are. She also suggested that I mention that she'll learn to speak more easily when she grows a little older.
My friend recommended books and DVDs to help me help my daughter at home—all of which I purchased. I emailed my pediatrician and she gave me a list of 20 SLPs (speech language pathologists) that I could call, all of whom were perfectly pleasant and none of whom accepted health insurance, prompting additional stress over the situation.
As I became more overwhelmed with financial, logistical and emotional prospect of weekly speech-therapy sessions, I found myself waking up every morning praying that the stuttering had just disappeared. It hadn't.
I needed to quell the ache in my heart so that I could focus on what my daughter needed, so I reached out to a mom friend who had dealt with a different, but similar, issue with her child more than a decade ago, and asked for her counsel. She validated every emotion I had, and made me feel better—as did my sister, my best friend and my mom.
Then, I spoke to one very kind and intelligent speech pathologist who broke down the statistics of the situation for me, telling me that girls are four times more likely to have stuttering go away without any formal therapy, and that the fact that my daughter has an excellent foundation for language is also a positive. He said she should absolutely come in for an assessment, but at this point in time it would be more for me than for her, and that there wasn't any harm in letting it go for up to six months before deciding if she needs formal therapy. He suggested some things for me to do at home with her, like slowing down my own speech, making sure we allow for plenty of time in our day to avoid rushing her, and giving her 10 to 15 minutes a day of my undivided attention.
There was something about his patient tone that immediately put me at ease. He suggested that I keep track on a calendar of how her stuttering is each day, so I could get an idea of how her speech is progressing over a longer span of time.
Since speaking with him, Ellie's speech has gotten a little better, and the ache in my heart has diminished. Some days are great, some not so much, and there is still a chance that she will need more formal therapy down the road, but for now, I feel equipped to handle the bumps on that road.