Onset: My Son’s Beautiful Stutter

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This is the first post in a series on parenting a child who stutters as an adult who stutters. For context, I’ve worked hard to achieve my own personal version of self-acceptance of my stutter, and, therefore, may hold different perspectives on how best to support my son’s journey. I offer my story and that of my family to bring awareness to this part of the stuttering experience that both people who stutter often fear and usually overlook as a transition in their journey that we may have to confront.

I knelt on the floor to meet my son eye to eye. He had started stuttering a few weeks prior, two months shy of his third birthday. This night was when I felt it. I saw the struggle in his eyes as they darted every direction but into mine. His short blocks were on three or four words in a sentence, and, yet the magnitude of their meaning leveled me. Lifting him from the floor and shutting the light, I held him tightly in my arms, rocking him to soothe my shattered heart. I burst into tears once outside his room. 

Over the next several months, his stuttering pattern ebbed and flowed like the rollercoaster of emotions that my wife and I felt as onlooking parents, as a stutterer myself and a spouse who knows my experience all too well. There was even a period of a few weeks when he stopped stuttering. 

Onset is a word that haunted me. The beginning of something, something unpleasant is what it means, and meant growing up with stuttering. 

“Oh, when did your son begin to stutter?” I’m not one to take offense to words used by others, but this question cuts to the chase, bringing back years of wonder about how my stutter developed into something unpleasant that shaped every waking experience of my formative years. 

A few months later, upon arriving at my parents’ house for the holidays, his pattern suddenly shifted to prolonging all the second-sound vowels, such as “d-AAA-mpa”—grandpa—and “R-OOOO-oooo-dolph.” His awareness raised with this drastic shift as he fought to get on with the rest of each stuttered word. 

While numbing my own reactions to stay present for him, I felt and saw his desire to escape each prolonged vowel, including the slightest beginnings of what appeared to be tricks and secondary behaviors. But he stood firm finishing each word. I rooted for him with every ounce of my being. 

Upon our return home a week later, he exchanged the prolonged vowels for a beautiful repetition-based stutter, of which I, myself, am envious. It was forward moving, ever so soft touch and go nature radiated such a natural, unobstructed pattern that for the first time I knew he was experiencing it from a perspective I hope to help him understand. Like a sidewalk after snow has fallen, it was serene and natural, without footprints to guide the way. 

Over the last four months, I’ve lost myself in thought about this reality. The idea that he is just stuttering without knowing that anything is wrong with doing so or anyone telling him to stop. Sure, I see that he knows something is off when his words aren’t quite coming out as easily, but he keeps talking and finishes what he has to say. 

I’ve wondered how long he’ll be able to hold on to this innocence. And how long we, as his parents, will be able to keep the energy and liveliness behind his beautiful stutter. Because that’s the goal, right? To keep him stuttering, with all his personality and socially outgoing ways burning bright, and without the footprints of life to tamp down his voice from guiding him forward. 

This is how I’m thinking about the onset of stuttering as I walk alongside my son. A struggled stuttering pattern is foisted upon us by those who have never experienced the beauty of an untouched stutter. 

To use my own journey as the example, others told me or I sensed that something was wrong when I stuttered as a young four- or five-year-old boy. I was taught how to fear each stutter, conceal each stutter, and modify each stutter, with such a precision that my voice left my life with the innocence that I never had a chance to know. With each formative year thereafter, I sat in speech therapy learning how to be fluent, layering on a weight that was nearly impossible to carry. 

Debilitating stuttering patterns are made, not born.

Something unpleasant is not going to be taught to our son. It took me many years as a person who stutters to understand that my natural stuttering pattern was buried beneath all the things I did to hide its presence in my voice because of how others might or did receive it. Well-intentioned or not, I was like a sponge soaking up all the guidance on how to fix my stutter. 

Often, I catch myself staring in awe and then smiling at my wife after our son bounces right through a stutter-filled sentence. The whirlwind of emotions I’ve felt with all the transitions in his stuttering pattern thus far brings me hope rather than dread that his beautiful stutter will bless his life much, much earlier than I was lucky enough to experience.  

For more on my experiences of being a parent who stutters, see the following series of posts I wrote two years ago before I knew my son would stutter. 

Losing the Light: Will My Son Stutter?

Turning Up: What Will My Son Think of Stuttering?

Daddy's Superpower: Explaining Stuttering to My Son

The Hardest Thing to Say: What's His Name?

Unfounded Guilt: What If They Stutter?

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