Throughout life we are challenged to learn many new motor skills - walking, riding a bike, ice-skating, playing the piano, learning to drive . . . . In a workshop I attended, John Ahlbach (former director of the National Stuttering Project and FRIENDS) explained many of the advantages of teaching kids who stutter a new motor skill - juggling (handout online, Ahlbach, 1997b) and learning juggling yourself! (Ahlbach 1997a) states, "Consider these results:
Think about it. When was the last time any of your young clients ran out into the school yard after one of your sessions and shouted to his or her friends: "Guess what I did with the speech teacher today!" Isn't it worth a try?"
- It would quickly improve their self-image (and yours)
- Teach them the elements of learning a new behavior
- Make you look a lot less one-dimensional in their eyes, and establish a better rapport between you
- Give them something to bring home to their parents
- Probably break a few hand-held objects in your office you didn't want anyway
- Make "therapy: seem not a chore, but something which is active and perhaps even fun.
In the workshop, Alhbach described and demonstrated how to juggle (it looked so easy!) and handed each of us three yellow tennis balls that were soon bouncing all around the room! I quickly discovered how difficult it was for me to learn this new motor skill, but I gained some interesting insights trying. The next fall, I challenged the graduate students in my course on fluency disorders to learn how to juggle, and then apply what they learned about themselves and perhaps about their future clients who stutter.
Comments by several insightful students are summarized below.
Joseph Donaher (2000) wrote a paper, "Stuggling and Juttering" for a past online conference that contains additional valuable insight on using juggling "as a metaphor for stuttering at all levels of the therapeutic process."
- I had tried to learn to juggle years ago and failed which created a mindset I had to overcome. I wonder how often a client who stutters comes with a similar mindset about stuttering therapy.
- It was difficult to practice juggling. I live in an apartment where the ceilings are low. It was too cold to practice outside - wearing winter gloves would make it even more difficult. I have a dog that thought I was playing ball with him. I can see how people trying to learn new speaking strategies may find their situations do not lend themselves to the practice we are asking them to do.
- I did not like this assignment because it was HARD. I started out reading the instructions and thought it would be really easy and I wanted to be able to get it right away. It was frustrating that I couldn't!! The more frustrated I was, the more difficult it was to juggle. My boyfriend knows how to juggle and he thought that it would be easy for him to teach me and that I would get how to do it right away. We both were frustrated since it seemed he could do it so easily while I could not understand it.
- At times I discovered that right when I released the first ball I knew this time it wasn't going to work. Perhaps PWS can tell right away when they start talking, or even before, that the speaking situation will not go well.
- The more I thought I would never be able to juggle, the harder it was for me to do it. I also learned that when I relaxed, I did a little better.
- I had learned to juggle a little in middle school and thought I didn't need to read or follow any "intructions." I did not read the instruction sheet until a couple of days before the end of the project, discovering that I really should have reviewed some of the "basics." The SLP needs to be aware of the strategies clients are using, perhaps reviewing some of the "basics."
- I now know that much practice is needed when acquiring a new motor skill. The more I practiced, the better I got. There were times when I thought I was not making any progress, but when I looked back on the last two weeks I realized that I have gotten much better. I also noticed a major regression when I did not practice for a couple of days! The best way to learn is to spend a short, consistent amount of time each day. Keeping good data to show clients their progress is important and can be motivating.
- Progress is made in little steps. I found that going from two to three balls was a major problem for me so I added a step in between, which helped immensely. I held three balls, but only threw and caught two of them. It took some practice but I was able to accomplish that goal which gave me a sense of success, motivating me to keep trying.
- Continuous encouragement from my roommate motivated me to keep trying. It would be easy to "give up" without motivation, and without seeing some success!
- I think this task taught me more than challenges learning a new motor skill. It also taught me about some of the intrinsic struggles a PWS may be facing. Being asked to juggle in front of the class created great apprehension. I did not want to look like a failure.
Of course, it is very important to remember that learning a new motor skill is only a PART of therapy for stuttering. But my students still learned a lot from this assignment that could not only be given to university students in their course on stuttering, but also to family members, teachers, and classmates of children who stutter to give them some understanding of the potential challenges of learning a new motor skill.