Friday, October 24, 2014

We must understand the "somethings" and "nothings" for children who stutter.

The National Stuttering Association’s recent campaign poster is unsettling to me.  It states that “There are many ways to help children who stutter – doing nothing is not one of them.” While I agree whole-heartedly, I fear that this will be interpreted by a worried parent, as “just get your child to a speech therapist and then you’ve done the “something” you’re supposed to do.  That was certainly the extent of our plan when our son began struggling sixteen years ago!  Don’t we wish it was that simple.

Sometimes my message in Voice Unearthed is interpreted as “doing nothing is safer than doing something.”  This could not be further from the truth.  Parents must be aware that there are many somethings out there and some of those somethings are helpful and some of those somethings are not – if fact – they can even be harmful when it comes to treating children who stutter.  Parents (and speech therapists) must educate themselves about all of the possible “somethings” and fully understand the risks and controversies around each one prior to enlisting their child in therapy.    

I understand that unfortunately there are parents out there who choose to be minimally engaged in most aspects of their child’s life, and for those parents, speech therapy isn’t going to be at the top of the list.  My heart goes out to those kids for reasons far beyond their challenge with speaking, but many parents do care and will embrace finding appropriate and safe support that will focus on the best long-term outcomes --- keeping their kids talking and engaged in the world around them.   Many things can be done to ensure that outcome – and yes, “nothing is not one of them.”

Dori Lenz Holte

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun - Or Maybe There Is!

I was getting my hair cut the other day, and mentioned that I was on my way to talk to college students about stuttering.  The hairdresser said, “oh, my 19-year-old son stutters.”  I asked her if he had been through therapy and she said “yes, since he was three – both in school and in private therapy.”  I then asked how that had worked out for him.  She said “he became really quiet.”  That is all she would say.  My throat tightens up even as I write those words. 

My Voice Unearthed mission (book, blog, Facebook page) is to help parents understand, as I wish I had, that there are aspects to therapy that can inadvertently add to the anxiety and tension around talking.  There are aspects to therapy that can contribute to a handicap far greater than the stuttering itself – silence and withdrawal.  Unfortunately, the focus on speech mechanics and minimizing and/or eliminating stuttering still reigns. 

In the past week I've heard of speech therapy students being told that anxiety has nothing to do with stuttering and that neither parents nor speech therapists can do harm.  I talked to a mom on the phone who told me about the folder of tools and techniques she had been handed to work on with her son over the summer.    On a Facebook page I saw a speech therapist admitting that she had no experience in fluency treatment and wanted something “all laid out” so she could do therapy with a five-year old who was stuttering.  (It’s called the “cook-book” approach -- apparently many years ago some of the big names in this field actually did put out a book titled something like “Recipes from Speech Therapists,” and it was full of food recipes from speech therapists. Nothing new under the sun.)   We have a long ways to go…but I also see glimmers of hope.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an NSA Family Fun Day at the University of Minnesota which included a panel of adults who stutter speaking to the parents.  There is so much parents can learn from listening to adults who stutter and these adults were no exception.  When asked what success looks like, each and every one of them said it was not about being fluent, but about putting yourself out there and saying what it is you want to say.  They spoke frequently about the importance of self- confidence overall, not just around their speech.  One man stated that he loved going to therapy as a child, but didn’t find the speech tools and techniques helpful.  I asked him what he loved about it.  His reply was that he liked that he was accepted and listened to.  He felt safe. 

I was also encouraged by on a gorgeous, sunny, late September Saturday morning, 65 speech therapists took time from their weekend to hear Lisa A. Scott, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Florida State University talk about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children who stutter. CBT is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  We still don’t know what causes stuttering, but we do know that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can make or break the long-term well-being for anyone who stutters.  Honestly, if I could do it over again, I would find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a deep understanding of fluency issues to treat our son.  Finding that professional is probably like finding a needle in the haystack, but if parents continue to educate themselves and demand this approach, this glimmer will grow to be as bright as a sunny Saturday morning in September.  

Keep them talking!
Dori Lenz Holte

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Others Saying About Voice Unearthed

Parents and speech therapists often connect with me to provide feedback and insights into their own journeys after reading Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.  With their permission I am sharing a number of their comments because not only do they make me do a happy dance around my living room but I believe their messages are of great value and can be helpful to others dealing with a child who stutters.   So here goes… 

Lily Valley:  This book was a godsend for us. I shared it with my extended family, as well as a friend who has a three year old having difficulty. A very heartfelt thank you to Dori. I still feel as though we are in the dark ages in some respects, but was so glad to read this, a true wake up call! It is a very easy read, her and Eli's journey just pulls you along. I also shared it with a SLP friend who received it well and said she would share it with her colleagues as well.

Rachel Lavin:  I've got the book and it's great. It was a real eye opener for me. My 10 year old son earlier this year attended a series of 6 group toolbox type sessions where first they identified in each other different types of blocks and difficulties as they heard them and then the therapist explained how to deal with them. Increasing his awareness of his stammer made his speech much worse and it took us 3 months to get back to where we were prior (& he didn't use any of the techniques as he was too hung up on trying to speak). For some children that type of therapy might be useful but from reading your experience I could see very clearly what had happened with Harry.  I think all parents of children with a stammer should read it.

Gunars Neiders, PhD:  I just finished reading Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up-Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter. If people would take care to read this book, speech therapists would meet her challenge and "support kids' growth and not add layers of guilt, shame, anxiety, silence, and failure to a child's world." Then as adults they would not have to read my book "From Stuttering to Fluency: How to Manage Your Emotions and Live More Fully".

Simone Greenfield:  This is a must read book for parents of young children who are confused and unsure about speech therapy methods and approaches. My son is 6.5yo and has been stuttering since the age of 3yo. His stutter is so mild at the moment that it's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago he was gasping for air trying to get a word out and we were desperate for any help. I can't thank Rachel Lavin enough for telling me, a complete stranger, about this book. I thought I should share this with you all. I would've done things differently to start with if I had read this book before.

Suzanne Smith: I agree with Simone completely, this book is a must read for parents of children that stammer. My son Korben is 11 years now and has stammered since been 3yrs old, but like Kerry's son he has periods of fluency, which can quickly turn to periods where he really struggles to get any words out & experiences facial grimacing-there seems to be no apparent trigger. After reading this book I asked myself the same questions- who struggles more Korben or me as a parent? The truth shocked the hell out of me -Korben deals with his stammer, is frustration, is anxiety & other peoples opinions! far better than me!! It's a real eye opener- I wish I'd read it many moons ago.

Not only I read it, but my husband, granny and grandad who are very close to my son. We all felt the emotion you've described above and identified with the author's experiences deeply. It hurt to know that what we were doing wasn't helping the child at all and in fact it was harming despite our best intentions. I was always a bit sceptical about the methods used in the therapies but thought they were the experts not me. We should always trust our instincts.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flash Back - First Trip to the Ranch

Eli and I attended the last Stuttering Group Meeting at UW River Falls last week … at least the last one Eli will be able to join in on for a while as he’s off to college.   To give you a feel for the nature of these gatherings, we spent an inordinate amount of time admiring Jerry’s feet.  He had gotten his first pedicure.  Oh, and we talked about fear of speaking. 

It’s been over nine years ago that we first connected up with the eccentric, unconventional and supposedly retired Dr. Jerry Halvorson.  The first three years were a covert operation – we would visit Jerry at his ranch, overflowing with horses and horse stuff.  I mean overflowing.  Seriously.

I originally had a full chapter in my book about our first visit to Jerry’s ranch.  The content didn’t make the final cut in its entirety, but he insisted that I read it to his students whenever the chance came up.  In honor of Dr. Halvorson and nine years of ridiculous and brilliant speech therapy, here’s the chapter in its entirety.  Enjoy…


… The next day we made the trek, just Eli and I, to Jerry's ranch.  After driving 80 miles, the last half on a beautiful winding road down into a river valley, we spotted the weather-beaten "Halvorson" sign Jerry had told us to watch for on the side of the road.  The driveway took us past a small chocolate brown house, probably at least 100 years old.  As we passed that building I realized there was another much newer, albeit somewhat unkempt, chocolate brown house attached to the back.   I parked the van expecting Jerry to appear from somewhere to greet us, but all was quiet.  We approached the newer part of the house and knocked on a door adorned on each side by dusty saddles.  When there was no answer I hesitantly ventured into an entryway area.  It was lined with cardboard boxes, a few pairs of old cowboy boots and a few more saddles, all coated with more dust.  I knocked on an inside door and heard a muffled voice.  When I opened the door a muffled voice called out “come'on in.”

We climbed some steps, rising above more saddles perched on a long railing, all covered with more dust.  I spotted him on the other side of a large room (a sort of "Where's Waldo experience).  He was nestled in his recliner, bare feet crossed, wearing a ragged pair of sweats and an old t-shirt, not looking quite as much like a cowboy as the day before, and even less like a speech professional.  But the room left little doubt about the cowboy part.  In addition to at least fifteen saddles, there were reins, horse blankets, horse posters, horse paintings, horse figurines, and even a horse rug.  Yes, just like a bear rug, only a horse rug.  A dead horse rug.  This was clearly a collection (or collector?) gone amuck.   

We continued through the big room, passing an old kitchen cook stove.  It sat in the middle of what should have been the living room, giving off warmth and the wonderful smell of wood burning.  This scent, combined with a scent of horse dung and fried food, permeated the room.

"Glad to meet cha," Jerry bellowed out to Eli, thrusting out those muscled cowboy fingers from the depths of his recliner.  "I hear you like horses."   Eli grinned and shook his hand and continued to peer around the room – he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  Neither was I.           

The area where Jerry sat was loosely defined by two large couches loaded with clothes, papers, and boxes overflowing with God knows what.  His recliner faced both the TV tuned in to a soap opera and sliding glass doors.  His view included a pasture with a herd of horses, a meandering trout stream, and a large bluff of trees in the distance.  Just as I started to admire that view, Jerry gleefully pointed out his latest deck ornament -- a dead coyote hanging from the clothes line.  I let out an involuntary groan.  Eli squealed in delight.   

He told us to have a seat, but didn’t seem to notice that the only one not filled with stuff was his.  Having confronted two dead carcasses in a very short period of time (not to mention the goat-haired vest he was wearing when my husband and I had first met him the day before) I was feeling the need to either sit or run.   I decided on trying to sit rather than bolt and boldly removed a pile of clothes from a chair only to expose a small pile of corn in the seat cushion.  My eyes opened wide as I now imagined live animals instead of dead carcasses co-existing with him here in cowboyville.  I asked what kind of creatures he was feeding.   

"Oh yeah," he threw his head back and chuckled.  "There's a grey squirrel around here somewhere.  I heard him dancing on the piano keys just last night!"   Now I really truly was ready to run, but Eli clearly wasn’t as he'd already nestled himself in between some piles of clothes on the couch next to Jerry's chair.  Jerry chuckled and assured me that the pile probably fell out of his pants pocket – treats for his trick horse.  Besides, he feeds the squirrel apples -- in a trap he had set in the older part of the house. I gamely scooped up the corn, dumped it in a plastic grocery bag hanging from a kitchen cupboard, and finally sat down. 

Jerry still hadn’t moved and I later came to understand how the old wrestling injury in his knee limited his mobility.  He stayed comfortably in his chair, mostly watching TV and making off-handed comments to no one in particular.  Eventually Eli jumped in and together they discussed the dead coyote hanging on the deck (found it on the road, saving it for a buddy who collects hides), the bald eagle flying overhead, and the types of horses in the pasture.

They continued to banter back and forth and Eli became more relaxed.  More than I could say for me.  I was working hard to block the image of a grey squirrel running up my pant leg and my fleeing out the door, leaving my nine-year-old to fend for himself.    

After about a half-hour of small talk, Jerry announced that it was time to feed the horses.  "Got a bad knee, could use your help."  Eli was more than willing and we all put on our coats and headed for the barn.   The smells of horse dung, hay, dust, dry and cold were all-familiar to this farm girl, taking me immediately back to my childhood farm home in southern Minnesota.  Jerry introduced Eli to a few horses that were being kept in the barn, and then led us upstairs to throw down hay.   He showed Eli how to push the bales down from the highest rows and heave them out an opening down to a waiting pick-up truck.  Several times Jerry had to grab Eli's coat to keep him from going down to the truck bed with the bale of hay.  Eli laughed a lot every time that happened.  Then we all loaded into the truck and drove out to the pasture. 

After sliding through some mud, as it's a rainy December, we drove right through the trout creek and up onto drier land.   Jerry threw the bales out, cut the twine, and instructed Eli to break them up and strew them around.  I had gotten out of the truck and was busy snapping pictures when I became aware of a growing thunder coming from behind me.  I turned to see the whole herd of horses galloping at full speed toward us.  Jerry calmly suggested that it might be a good idea for us to get back in the truck.  I took heed, quickly pulling Eli in behind me (I reckon a good mother would have shoved him in first).  We shut the truck doors just in time to be surrounded by the galloping horses.   It was quite spectacular and Eli begged me to let him take pictures.  I handed him the camera and he leaned far out the window to shoot.  Jerry got in the truck and told him to keep taking pictures.  "Just let me know when you want me to start and stop.  “You're in charge boy!"  Jerry bellowed.  Eli hung out the back window, yelling stop and go commands at Jerry as the truck lurched through the herd of horses.  

As my concern for whiplash was starting to mount, we finally headed back to the house.  Jerry invited us back in for tea and we accepted – although I wasn’t crazy about ingesting anything that had been prepared in his kitchen.  But after the cold and dampness of the pasture, the tea actually tasted pretty good.  As we got up to leave, I noticed two pictures on his refrigerator.  The first was an 8 x 10 of a beautiful baby boy with curly hair and brown eyes looking for some really fun trouble -- presumably a grandson.  Next to it was a magazine tear-out of a bikini- clad woman feeding a horse.   As we walked toward the door, back through the maze of saddles and horse paraphernalia, I wondered what I had gotten us into now?

There was certainly no pretense about this guy.  Somehow in the midst of the chaos of saddles and leather and dust and horses there was a sense of honesty that I was beginning to appreciate.  He wasn’t hiding behind clean white walls, rhetoric, impressive goals I did not understand, or speech tests and fancy techniques.  His walls were filled with horse paintings and bullhorns instead of degrees and certificates.  He didn't have a waiting room filled with moms reading People magazine and writing out the check.  All he had was a bunch of horses, a few dead animal carcasses, a gray squirrel, and now a befuddled but weirdly hopeful mom with a little boy who stuttered. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Update From The Holtes

It’s been a whirlwind summer for the Holte family – started off with Eli’s 18th birthday followed two days later by his grad party (120+ friends and family – good times!!).  See below – note the gecko coming out of the eyeball…

These events were followed up by our son, Abe’s wedding.  I now have a beautiful daughter, Esther, and I’m thrilled!  This is my favorite picture from the wedding – yes, it was a really really fun event!  Eli is lurking in the back – a little creepy…J

And now we prepared to see our last child leave the nest.  Eli heads off to Moorhead State mid-August.  Man, I’m going to miss him.  I’ll miss his big brother, Adam, too – heading back to St. Cloud State. The newlywed, Abe, just got his first professional (i.e. paid) commercial photography gig this week.  And I get to focus on buying quality, not quantity at the grocery store.  Organic section – here I come!  I’ll probably be sobbing in the aisles.  Exciting times for everyone! 

So that’s an update from the Holte family – hope you and yours are all having a wonderful summer!  Thank you again for your interest in Voice Unearthed – and keep them talking!!

Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte




Thursday, May 8, 2014

Befuddled and Grateful!

This past Monday I had the honor of doing a Skype session with Communication Disorders graduate students from City University New York (CUNY).  They were truly inspiring and I thank them and their professor, Peggy Connor, for inviting me.  They had all read my book and had great questions and insights. 

You know how this goes.  The minute you hang up you think of all the things you wished you had said.  Oh, but I do have a blog site - yippee for me! 

I keep thinking about their question around the parent who desperately wants their child to get beyond this.  We were (still are to be honest!) those parents.   No one ever explained to us the risk of increased silence and disengagement -- especially when the speech tools are meant to do just the opposite and appear to do that successfully within the clinic setting.   It took way too long for us to get to the point of realizing that his progression in the wrong direction might be connected to the focus of therapy – i.e. making fewer speech errors.  I believe most parents will fully understand this if it is explained to them in a respectful and thoughtful way.  They may still insist on an approach that lends itself to making the behavior stop, but at least their flags will raise a lot sooner in the journey and less damage will be done. 

I don't blame his speech therapy for the fact that he stutters, but I do believe that therapy focused on making fewer speech errors played a huge role in the intensity of his struggle today.  I don't blame speech therapists either -- they were doing what they had been taught to do, what is considered "evidence-based", and what appears to work when the child is with them. 

And yet I didn’t have to dig too deep to find professionals and people who stutter express serious concern over this type of therapy.  I am completely befuddled as to why ASHA isn’t doing more to develop options that do not carry the inherent risk of increased anxiety, withdrawal, and silence for children.  Completely befuddled…

Okay, I feel much better now.  I was so honored to be able to connect with the graduate students at CUNY on this topic.   Great group of future speech therapists – not because they agreed with my opinions (they may or may not have), but because they listened.  They valued a parent’s perspective and they will consider this perspective as they proceed in their chosen field. 

Happy Mother’s Day to me because that was the best gift I could have ever received!  Now if I can just get that kid to clean his room, my Mother’s Day weekend (yes, I make it the entire weekend) will be complete.    And it’s never my birthday – it’s my birthweek.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms too! 


Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte

Author of Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Visit the British Stammering Association Group Facebook Page

Hello all -- been awhile!  I have Eli's graduation party coming up -- and then my other son's wedding.  This means I have to do some serious cleaning :0!

We are also still working on getting a new website up and running -- soon I hope.

But the real reason I wanted to post today is to give a shout-out to the British Stammering Association Group.  This is a closed group on Facebook and full of lovely people, Brits and Ams alike.  It is the first group I've found that includes lots of parents -- in addition to adults who stutter.  Hope you take time to check them out and even join in the conversation!

Spring still isn't here...tomorrow?

Keep them talking!!

Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte