The video also captured some of Zippy’s worst stuttering. It brought tears to my eyes, somehow touching me even more now than it did back then, maybe because of the distance time provides or maybe because that 2-year-old Zippy struck me as so vulnerable in his struggle to get his words out. His voice caught on his words, repeating the beginning “ba” sound in balloon several times before he gave up. “That!” he said, pointing to the balloon. At one point, he looked at me behind the camera. “Help,” he said. He just couldn’t make the word come out like he wanted to.
How It Began
Zippy started having difficulty with stuttering right around his second birthday. He was super-verbal for a 2-year-old and I noticed repetitions in his speech (“I want that p-p-p-plane.”) As I usually do when I have a concern, I did a little research. I found websites for The Stuttering Foundation and ASHA, which I figured would be reliable sources of information. Most of what I read said that occasional stuttering is normal in toddlers and preschoolers and provided some guidelines for when it might be considered problematic. Based on what I read and the fact Zippy's stuttering had just started, we took a wait-and-see approach. We would keep an eye on it for a few months and, if the problem persisted, we could take action.
Over the next six months, the stuttering came and went and came back again. Almost like clockwork, every two months Zippy would have about two weeks of difficulty. Each time it got worse. In addition to repetitions, he began having prolongations, blocks, and replacing words – all signs of more serious stuttering. The tension in his face and voice was evident, and sometimes he would shout his words in an effort to get them out. At times it would take him so long to complete a sentence that by the time he reached the end I couldn’t remember the beginning! God bless the patience of his teachers at daycare, who had a classroom full of toddlers but would give him the time he needed to finish what he was saying.
When other moms commented on Zippy's stuttering, giggling about how “cute” it was, it told me that their kids were not doing the same thing – at least, not to the same degree. The breaking point was when Zippy stopped mid-sentence, stuck on a word he just couldn’t get out, and pleaded, “Help!” He knew he was having trouble and it frustrated him. He knew what he want to say, but sometimes he just couldn’t get the words to come out. That was my cue to call Early Intervention for an evaluation.
Here is a video that I shot shortly before Zippy began speech therapy to treat his stuttering. I’ll also add a couple more videos at the end of the post. I share these videos – and this story – in the hope it will be helpful to another family facing a similar struggle. (And also so you all can tell me how darn cute my kid is!) In my effort to get Zippy talking on camera, you’ll hear me doing something you are supposed to avoid with kids who stutter – asking lots of questions! Zippy struggles off and on in this clip, but especially during the last 30 seconds.
Our service coordinator told us that in 10 years at her job, she’d only had one other child referred because of stuttering – so clearly it isn’t a common referral issue for young kids! It’s interesting that even after Zippy was evaluated and recommended for services, when it came time to find a speech therapist several told our service coordinator, “Stuttering is normal in toddlers. I wouldn’t treat a toddler for stuttering.” I wish they could have seen this video. Does this sound normal? Thank goodness for an evaluator who looked at the bigger picture and recognized that Zippy would benefit from speech therapy. One of her primary concerns was that it was that, even at 2 1/2, he was already trying to compensate for his stuttering and showing signs of frustration with it. And, thank goodness for our amazing speech therapist, "Miss E," who has both a personal and professional interest in stuttering and jumped at the chance to work with him.
Zippy received speech therapy for over a year. Initially, services were provided in our home and later we went to his therapist’s office. The federal government provides funding to every state to ensure that young children with developmental delays or disabilities receive the services they need, so all of the Early Intervention services that Zippy received were free. How awesome is that?! Oftentimes it is children with developmental delays or medical conditions like autism and Down Syndrome who receive EI, but kids with a “clinically significant” impairment can also qualify. That's how Zippy was eligible. If you are interested in Early Intervention services but aren’t sure where to find them in your community, your pediatrician is a good place to begin, or try a web search for "early intervention" and your state.
We learned that Zippy had some risk factors that are often associated with stuttering. He is a boy (boys are more likely to stutter than girls). His dad had some problems with stuttering as a preschooler (it often runs in families). And then there were some “environmental” factors like the fact his mom (that would be me) talks a mile-a-minute.
Therapy was really about teaching Hubby and I, as the parents, how to help Zippy. Initially, Zippy’s therapist focused on helping us create a “fluency friendly” environment at home. This meant simple things like slowing down when we spoke, being careful not to interrupt one another, listening attentively and letting Zippy finish speaking on his own rather than "filling in the blanks" for him, and not asking a lot of questions (which would create pressure on Zippy to answer). Simple strategies, but much easier said than done! The slowing down part was especially tough for me. It felt so unnatural for the first few weeks, until I got used to it. Although a lot of the strategies were things we could have researched and tried on our own, it was immensely helpful to have someone to check in with, answer our questions, and hold us accountable for using the strategies between sessions. Miss E brought activities to do with Zippy each week, in order to model slower speech and breathing and to create opportunities for him to be more fluent. She also met with his daycare teachers to talk with them about how they could help. We were so fortunate to have such an amazing speech therapist, who really understood stuttering, work with us.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, but are still in the “wait and see” phase, there are things you can do at home in the meantime. The Stuttering Foundation has a couple of great lists that summarize these strategies – check out 7 Tips For TalkingWith Your Child and Tips For TalkingWith The Child Who Stutters. You might notice that nowhere in these lists are suggesting the child “slow down” or “take a deep breath.” While these are common suggestions people make, they actually are not helpful! Interestingly, throughout these first few months of therapy we never pointed out to Zippy he was stuttering or made a big deal about it in front of him.
When Zippy was three, he “aged up” to services through the school district and had to transition to a new therapist who used the LidcombeProgram with him. By the time Zippy started with his new therapist, he’d just had what would end up being his last episode of serious stuttering – less than 6 months since we’d had him evaluated and started therapy! I thought he’d have another episode when Bee was born, since becoming a big brother would be a major life change that also coincided with his 2-month stuttering cycle, but he breezed through January without trouble!
To talk with Zippy now, you would never suspect he once had problems with stuttering. The kid talks a mile a minute all day long without missing a beat! I am sure that his progress was partly due to maturity (his speech catching up with his mind) and partly due to the great speech therapy he received. As he gets ready to start kindergarten in the fall, I’m so extremely thankful that he isn’t still having issues with his speech.
For parents concerned about their young child’s stuttering or other aspect of speech, my suggestion is to do your research and trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, have your child evaluated. Even though a “wait and see” approach is recommended with young children, so is early intervention! And if you meet someone who stutters, please, make eye contact, smile, and give them the time they need to finish!
* * * * *
Before the two additional videos of Zippy stuttering, I just want to mention that the Wrightslaw website and EarlyInterventionSupport.com provide useful information about Early Intervention and the laws requiring states to identify and serve young children.
Zippy is tired in this one and really not in the mood to talk, as you'll see! But it's shows his frustration when he has difficulty with his words.
And one more. Excuse the lollipop in his mouth!