The idea of using a hippo in my story came from Vivian Sheehan, speech-language pathologist. Many years ago Vivian and Joesph Sheehan started a stuttering clinic at University of California- Los Angeles (UCLA). I got a chance to be a part of Vivian's beginner stuttering group.
In that group and in every beginner group she talks about a baby hippo that represents a person's stuttering. She described how a person who stutters will walk into a room with this hippo. The people in the room do not know how to react to the hippo- the person's stuttering. They don't know whether to talk around, under, or over it. It is like when a person enters a room with only one arm or lets say has a scare on his face. You are curious about what happened to the arm or how the person got a scare on his face. Once that person answers your curiosity you don't think about it anymore.
Such is the case when a person who stutters comes along people are not sure what is going on with him. Some have never heard anyone who stuttered. Other people my think he is nervous or unsure of himself. So to make the hippo smaller one must acknowledge his stuttering to whoever he is talking to.
So being open about one's stuttering works two fold. First it sets the listener at ease. It answers his or her curiosity and more importantly the stutterer feels more at ease to stutter freely and not try and hide his stuttering by doing his tricks or crutches.
In "Jeremy and the Hippo" the hippo represents Jeremy's stuttering. The more Jeremy stutters the bigger the hippo gets. This causes some embarrassing and funny moments for Jeremy.
Jeremy does not find relief from his stuttering until he learns to slide through the words - like sliding on ice or snow boarding through the snow. Joseph Sheehan came up with the term "sliding", like sliding down a slide. Joe and Vivian wanted people who stuttered to use "sliding as a way to stutter more openly- as a way to advertise to people that they stuttered. When a stutterer purposely slides a lot of the secondary behaviors disappear such as head jerks and eye blinks. When working with my clients its almost like magic when they start to use slides. Magic in that their old stuttering behaviors practically disappear. However what is even more incredible is that many children and adults do not want to slide, they would rather revert to their old stuttering behaviors. People are afraid to change even if it is a good change. When I myself learned to slide I thought that was the best thing since sliced bread because I actually could do something to combat my fear of stuttering by sliding through my words..
I wrote the booklet to give children who stutter some insight into their own stuttering. That the hippo is not something bad but something that can be worked out with understanding and hard work. The hard work is not trying to fight your stuttering but to ease through it.
A person who stutters will try many times to force his words out. The key to getting unstuck or unblocked is to not force the stuttering out. When a person comes to see me I explain to him that stuttering is usually caused by either jamming your tongue up against the roof of your mouth, or the lips are too tight and or the throat is jammed-too tight so nothing meaning air or sound or both can't get through. Not only does one learn to use sliding as a tool to advertise but it also can be used to gain control of potential blocks.
The booklet also uses scenes in Jeremy's life that he has to face every day that many of us who do not stutter take for granted. Like being called on in a classroom, getting teased, and talking to relatives and family members. I wanted the book to be humorous in some way but also wanted it to be used as a therapy tool to talk about certain situations that a child who stutters has to deal with such as teasing. Please take a look at the article I wrote that is listed in this conference.