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My Son's Not Stupid...
As parents of a stammering child we have endured many sad and funny incidents with his speech. Our son's stammer became apparent when he was three years old. The doctor said "leave it alone and it will go away". We did but it didn't go.
When embarking on his school career (age five) the teachers were completely thrown - could he read or not? They had obviously not come across a severe stammerer before. With a large class there was no time to find out, so he was sent to remedial help lessons. I was horrified as I knew he could read and understand words far beyond the level of most 5-6 year olds.
At home on a one-to-one basis with him feeling relaxed, secure and confident, he could attain a reading level exceeding his years. Finally the remedial teacher gave him a practical test and discovered that his English vocabulary was excellent and he shouldn't be wasting her time in a remedial class. She even suggested that he was lazy and a naughty boy for pulling the wool over her eyes! He only stammered.
Christmas concerts at school, usually a joy to parents, became so sad for me. Watching all the infants with their boldly printed cards reading out line by line the Christmas story. I knew they would not let my son have his own card, so instead he was given the same words as the child next to him. They both stood up, but while the other child read, my son stood awkward and motionless until they both sat down to let the next child continue with the story. Why did they have to make him feel inferior? Surely they could have waited for him to read one line? It would not have taken long and he would have felt thrilled to be treated like the others. He is not a mute, he simply stammers. Non-stammerers always seem to be more embarrassed than stammerers are: children, if they are treated equally almost become unaware of their speech problem.
A classic story which demonstrates that you should not finish off sentences for a stammerer was when my son (then aged 7) was giving me an extremely involved description of how the boys toilets at school had been completely refurbished (really gripping stuff!) I asked if they were now operational to which he replied "No, but I th-think some boys h-h-had a quick p-p-p". As much as I dislike the expression I was about to help out by saying "Pee" for him, when suddenly the word formed and it was "Peep". I was glad I didn't interfere.
When it was time for the 11+ examination he was convinced that he would not go to grammar school because he stammered. I was most relieved to find when attending our local speech unit, that the two boys in front of us were from the grammar school. This amazed my son, who thought that stammerers were never allowed to do anything.
Now he is off to the grammar school this September and I know he wonders how he will keep ridicule at bay. I have advised him that he won't. First year pupils at a new school are always a target but I have tried to explain that if boys want to be offensive they will and the boy who is too tall, too small, too fat, or has extra thick glasses will be upset just as much as a stammerer.
As to what the future holds, who knows. We are told there is no miracle cure but that it has to come from within. Maybe as he gets older he will be more aware of how important all the little tips from the speech unit are, especially after attending an Intensive Stammerers Course in London for two weeks in the Easter holidays which provided lots of helpful hints and practical help. It was also quite and experience to meet other stammering children with their parents and share their hopes and aspirations.
From the September 1984 edition of Speaking Out.
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