Transfer Step 2: Desensitization

Parents who call me for speech therapy are usually upset. Nine times out of ten, they are parents of elementary school age children denied school services or disappointed by them. The rest are frightened parents of preschoolers. My practice is one of many that do not accept insurance because the amount of time spent on paperwork and following-up denied claims is simply unmanageable. So everyone that steps through my door with a check in hand is emotionally invested in change.

The emotion that motivates families to make and keep appointments becomes a liability when it’s time to work on identification and behavior change. It is too frightening, embarrassing, or even disheartening for them to examine the stuttering closely. Children who fear stuttering have been known to cope in ways that increase emotional and physical stress, so turning down the emotional temperature is an important first step. A stuttered sound is pronounced with unexpected, excess physical tension and (often) a feeling of loss of control. To relax this articulatory tension, the child must slow down speech dramatically and find a new feeling of loose, deliberate articulation. And so step 2 in transfer is desensitization – reducing the emotional reactions.

Desensitization is what allows a child to CHANGE stuttered sounds instead of avoid, hide, or fight them. He can ‘play’ with the moment of stuttering to study just what in the world his mouth is doing and how to move his tongue, lips and jaw differently. Reducing the fear of stuttering gives a child permission to talk, express his thoughts and feelings, even if talking more means stuttering more. The more talking a child does, the more opportunities he has to transfer new skills. When a child will not talk in school because he would “rather be the quiet kid than the stuttering kid,” those lovely, loose stuttering modification techniques he performs in the speech room are a long way off from being transferred to the classroom.

A child needs to talk about stuttering with her teachers, friends, and relatives in order to set up a hierarchy of homework activities. Negative feelings can get in the way of this happening. It’s difficult to talk about issues that cause us to feel embarrassed or inadequate. Stuttering is one of those issues. Becoming aware of these feelings, talking about them, and investigating ways to reduce their powerful effects is another target of desensitization.

Ideas based on Peter R. Ramig & Darrell M. Dodge (2010) The Child and Adolescent Stuttering Treatment and Activity Resource Guide, 2nd ed., Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.