Coping Strategies

In March, I watched a new DVD from the Stuttering Foundation: Williams’ Normal Talking Approach to Help Children Make Speech Changes [1] In this video, Dr. Zebrowski seemed to repackage some old concepts in new language. One old concept retrieved from the past which seems to be trending now is Dean William’s approach to treatment. I took a look at The Genius of Dean Williams[2]  to prepare for a student's session.

Dr. Dean Williams said that what a child believes will influence the choices he makes. So it's helpful to ask children "what they believe is wrong and what they do that they believe helps them talk better.[3] Dr. Williams wrote that it was important to remember the difference between 1.)  the stuttered moment and 2.) the behavior to cope with that moment. This is a concept we could take a look at again.

I’ve observed a lot of disagreement over # 1, what the stuttered word is all about. Since research of the past few decades indicates stuttering is a neurological difference with genetic roots, I'm surprised to see Dr. Williams' old ideas about this resurface in 2014. So I very respectfully disagree with Dr. Zebrowksi when she says to tell children that stuttering is something they do and not something that happens to them. Dr. Williams said to tell children that stuttering is something they do, I believe,  in order to empower them, to imply that they can do something different. But, it seems to me that we risk blaming the child with this philosophy.

Nevertheless, there is little disagreement over #2, how children cope with the stutter. They may push at the stutter in order to keep up with the pace of conversation. This can become a physically difficult “fight” that results in negative listener feedback. They may move on to strategies that increase fluency, such as switching out words and talking less. I think that children are not always aware of their coping behavior. I also think children deny coping behaviors. Children who stutter are doing the best they can. Some more progressive thinking is that children should be allowed to stutter. For more such ideas, listen to Vivian Sisskin in StutterTalk podcast episodes 503-507, March 23-27, www.stuttertalk.com.

The take-home concept here is that there is a difference between the stutter and the coping behavior. Dr. Williams said that we can help children discover this distinction. We can talk with them about what they believe helps, their motivation for choosing certain coping strategies. This conversation will involve talking about feelings. The physical act of speaking becomes tangled up with emotion for people who stutter. This is my understanding of chapter 1.

If we can repeatedly help the child see the difference between the stutter and his choices for coping, then we can be clear about the behaviors he may have the power to change. We can help children "learn that attending to and changing one's behavior is dependent on what the child does and is not dependent on reducing or eliminating one's emotions." [4] Children say they want to stop stuttering; this may be a clue that the distinction between the stutter and the coping strategy is blurred. In response, we repeat the message that we don't have a cure for the stutter (#1).  We do have options for coping. (#2) We want children to keep talking. We want them to develop good communication skills all through childhood. And we want them to experiment with coping strategies to make the speaking easier.

In The Child and Adolescent Stuttering Treatment and Activity Resource Guide [5] there is a drawing of a coping strategy called a “pullout.” It has the moment of the stutter as a jagged line that changes into a gently rolling line. It illustrates a tense disfluency that becomes less tense. The stuttered moment is the tense disfluency. The rolling hills represent a copy strategy, loosening tension.  I wasn’t skilled enough to recreate it here using Word®. I thought we could take this drawing and turn it into a way to  brainstorm other coping strategies. Remember, a brainstorm is not judgmental. All kinds of ideas are acceptable. After brainstorming, we can talk about why a child might believe a particular coping strategy is most effective.  (Note: Doing nothing is a coping strategy associated with acceptance. A speaker may believe that stuttering is the best way to communicate quickly and completely in some situations. ) 

In conversation, we can talk about the pros and cons of various coping strategies to help the child discover and own his communication skills. 

[1] Stuttering Foundation 2014, No. 6325, www.stutteringhelp.org
[2] Ibid, 2005, No. 0425
[3] Ibid, p. 9
[4] The Genius of Dean Williams, p. 16
[5] Peter R. Ramig and Darrell M. Dodge (2010) Delmar Cengage Learning, p. 335

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