Her Name Was Mrs. Claussen - And She Cared

by Dr. Lee Reeves

As I walked down to the counselor's office, I thought to myself, "What will she be like" Will she be old or young? Pretty or ugly? Will she care?" Oh well, I figured it didn't really matter, anyway. I'd had so many speech therapists over the years I'd lost count. Another school, another therapist.

I wondered why I even bothered to go. My stuttering seemed to be just as much of a problem now as it always was, and besides I hated to miss P.E. How did they find out that I stutter anyway? The last school must have sent my records. It was pretty hard to hide the way I talked. As I walked down the hallway, memories popped in my head of how painful being a kid who stutters had been. Memories of how the kids used to call me "Motor Mouth," and of the teacher who asked me if I had "lock-jaw." It still hurt.

The pain welled up inside as I rounded the last corner toward the office. "Don't start getting weak knees now," I whispered to myself. I wondered why I didn't stutter when I whispered, or when I talked to myself. At any rate I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school - time to gut up. Time to meet the new one!

"Hello! I'm Mrs. Claussen. I hear you're from Texas!" She must have thought I was a little off my rocker as I stood there gawking, with my mouth wide open and my face red as a beet. She was really pretty! And she was young, too!

"Ye-Ye-Ye-Yes m-m-m-m-m-m-m-aam I am," I fumbled out. My heart felt like it was pounding through my chest, my palms were dripping wet, and I was tense all over. I really blew that introduction, and figured she probably thought I was a goof ball. "Well," she said with a kind smile, "I've always liked Texas."

Mrs. Claussen turned out to be one of the best speech therapists I've ever had. Not like the one in San Antonio who told me to tap my toe so I could talk to a rhythm. That was the beginning of the longest list of circus antics anyone has ever seen. That toe tap developed into a foot stomp, a hand pound, a squinted eye, a head jerk and various other "helpers."

Mrs. Claussen was different though. She spent the first several weeks just talking to me - asking me all kinds of questions about myself - about feelings - about what I thought I did when I blocked. And she listened. She began to teach me about the fundamentals of speech. Not just about my speech, but about everybody's. Mrs. Claussen taught me about technical things, like circumlocution (a fancy term for avoiding words). And she listened.

I sang in the choir all of my school career and was a pretty good tenor. At my old school I was in the top concert choir, but when my family was transferred I learned that the new school's choir was all filled up. It was such a disappointment. I felt like that was the one thing that I could really do well - and I could do it without stuttering. Somehow Mrs. Claussen pulled some strings, rearranged my whole schedule, and got me in the choir. I felt like she really cared about me as a person, not just a speech student.

During my last two years of school I couldn't really say that my speech got much better - except in therapy. She explained that my increased fluency in therapy was because I was so relaxed, and I knew that she didn't care if I stuttered. I remember saying that I wished the whole world was a big therapy session. We laughed!

Mrs. Claussen told me that when I left high school and went off to college that my speech would probably get worse for a while. She was sure right. Things got considerably worse. I wondered if I would ever be able to communicate. It was a very depressing time, and I often felt alone.

One day when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I recalled something that Mrs. Claussen had told me over and over. She said that if I really wanted to change my speech and become more fluent that I could, but that it was all up to me. I remembered she said not to strive for perfect speech, just better speech. She was right about that, too. I eventually looked for and found another speech therapist. I began to work very hard and over the next couple of years improved my speech considerably.

A few time, when I was at home for a break from college, I tried to get in touch with her, but I never did. In fact, I never saw or talked with her after I left high school. Many years have passed since then, and I think of her from time to time, wondering if she had as much impact on her other students as she had on me. I like to think that she did. I'll never forget her. Her name was Mrs. Claussen . . . and she cared.

(Dr. Lee Reeves is veterinarian who operated his own clinic in Plano, Texas. His city honored him by naming him Businessman of the Year. Besides giving of his personal time to visit with children who stutter, he also works on behalf of women and children who are victims of abuse. He founded the Dallas Chapter of the National Stuttering Project in 1981, and is still active in that group).

(The above article first appeared in The Staff, October 1992, and appears here with permission of Lee Reeves - JAK)

added March 7, 1997