You can post Questions/comments to Eelco de Geus or the entire panel before October 22, 2000.

"Sometimes I just stutter"........ Giving stuttering children the support they need

by Eelco de Geus
from Holland

In 1995 I wrote a little book for stuttering children and their families, which I called Sometimes I just stutter. During the years this simple text was translated in many different languages, for it seemed to fill a gap in the existing information - material for stuttering children. The Stuttering Foundation of America translated the book into English and made it available for stuttering children in America. As this book is online available at this conference, I was asked to give some background on the history of this book, the reasons why I wrote it and the specific needs from children for this kind of information.

Stuttering children in the age from 7 to 12 face specific problems when it comes to dealing with a problem like stuttering. Though some of them might not be aware of their speech problems, or do not have any negative feeling towards it, most of them know very well that they are stuttering, and, to various degrees, experience feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger, or grief.

For most children it is very hard to express these feelings. Often they are not able to identify and name them and when they are, it is most of the time too painful to talk about it. The general feeling of children who are aware of their stuttering is that they are alone with their problem, and that nobody understands them. The fact that they sometimes stutter and sometimes don't makes the problem even harder to catch and makes it harder to take it serious.

Stuttering is often hard to understand for the stuttering child as well as for the environment: parents, teachers, other family members. This contributes to the tendency to isolate oneself with the stuttering.

In the work I have done with stuttering children and their families, it struck me how much pain there is in relationship to their experiences with stuttering. It struck me also how hard it is for children and their families to understand what is really going on. I wanted to find a way to help express emotions and change ideas about stuttering, as an important condition for speaking more easily.

I noticed also that it can be hard to speak to children directly about these issues; many children tend to close down when directly approached with questions about feelings. Many children feel underneath the inviting questions of the therapist is a demand to perform, or are just unable to name their partially unconscious feelings. They often prefer to play instead of having difficult talks with therapists, who can easily make them feel like "there is something wrong with them".

I realized that I had the best chance to reach stuttering children when I would carefully consider their needs and act upon them. Above all, children need to feel good about themselves. They need to feel accepted and respected. They need to have the freedom to take in information and talk about feelings when they are ready for it. And they need to be spoken to in a language that they can and want to take in.

From those experiences and that point of view I started to write this little book on stuttering for children.

In the book possible emotions of children are described, information about stuttering is given and reactions from other people towards stuttering are explained in the language of the child. The child is also invited to share experiences by writing a letter to the foundation. The essence of the message is that it is o.k. to stutter, that you do not need to fight it, that is o.k. to feel sad or angry, and that the outside world has to be educated about stuttering by the child itself, for they just don't know how to deal with it. To put the child in the position as an educator of the environment about stuttering, part of the book consists of letters the child can give to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, teachers etcetera.

Originally I wrote this book only to use in my own Stuttering Center and for educating speech therapists. Then when I got the first reactions of children and I realized it was really of help, and the book was printed officially.

Now in many countryies children are reading it together with their parents, or giving it away to grandparents, teachers, etcetera. A lot of schools have bought the book for their library, and speech therapists use it directly in their work with children. I noticed also that adults like to read this book. Although it is written for children, for adults it is apparently also good to sometimes read material that nourishes the child within, which we all have….

Recently an American boy wrote me personally over the Internet and send his pictures where you can see him reading the book with his parents. He wrote:

This spontaneous openness from a child of that age I hardly ever meet in my work as a therapist. Apparently reading the book gives the child a feeling of having a (secret..) ally in this difficult problem, and motivates him to start expressing himself.

For me, it shows how important it is to give children (and adults as well) the support they need in dealing with stuttering. To encourage them to express their feelings and to give them perspectives that make them stronger in dealing with stuttering.

I hope this information gives a little background on the history and development of this children's book. At this point it has been translated into five languages, and my wish is that it will become available for as many children as possible, so whoever has the idea to translate this book in another language is invited to contact me.

Eelco de Geus

NOTE: The Stuttering Foundation of America markets this book for $2/copy and has made it freely available online as well. The book is also available from Bundesvereinigung Stotterer-Selbsthilfe e.V. as Manchmal Stotter Ich eben.

You can post Questions/comments to Eelco de Geus or the entire panel before October 22, 2000.

Date submitted: August 16, 2000