Sunday, April 10, 2011

F is for Fluency...

I thought long and hard about whether I want to write this post. I decided it was not something I wanted to shut out or hide from others. I believe such experiences must be shared. You never know who will benefit from the knowledge. If this post helps even one disfluent child, writing it will be completely worth it.

Wikipedia tells me that Fluency is a speech language pathology term that means the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking quickly. Fluency disorders is used as a collective term for cluttering and stuttering. Both disorders have breaks in the fluidity of speech, and both have the fluency breakdown of repetition of parts of speech.

Over three weeks ago I didn’t think much about the word fluency. But over these past three weeks I have been living, eating, sleeping and sweating the word fluency. Or rather disfluency.

Three weeks ago I noticed that my perfectly fluent daughter had occasionally begun saying ma-ma-mamma. “Why are you saying ma-ma-mamma?” I asked her. She would then repeat her sentence without the stutter. And my frown would disappear. But then after a while she’d do it again. She started saying da-da-dadi a few days later. Was I the only one noticing it? Why wasn’t anyone else at home saying anything about it? Maybe I was just being paranoid. But it stayed at the back of my mind. I mentioned it to hubby and he brushed it aside saying she was doing it on purpose.

Okay, so I was only being paranoid. A part of me told me I shouldn’t be ignoring it. But I turned a deaf ear to this voice. I blocked it out because I didn’t want to hear what it was saying. I realise now that I was in denial.

Then one Sunday he noticed it too. It was appearing in every fifth sentence or so that she spoke. And my daughter talks All.Day.Long. His confirmation of my fear was a terrible realisation. Our limited and false knowledge told us that we had done something to cause this. We had emotionally hurt or scared or neglected our daughter which had turned her into a stutterer.

I remembered a book I had read ages ago, when I was in school, about a woman whose son stuttered only around her, but never did when she wasn’t around. I think it was a Sidney Sheldon novel. I don’t remember anything else about the story except that the woman was a manipulating b*@#& who had instilled so much fear in her own child’s heart that he had begun to stutter. But I wasn’t that woman. Then why did this happen to Zainab?

I began to blame myself. My mind went over every single time that I had scolded her, told her off, snapped at her, smacked her, spoke to her angrily, told her she was being naughty, told her to apologise for being naughty... I went over it all over and over in my head, hating myself more with each memory. Was she feeling neglected after my son was born? Was she jealous or angry? Was she scared of something? I convinced myself that I was a terrible, terrible mother and my bad deeds had finally come back to haunt me. Except my innocent little baby had to pay the price.

I got over that stage too. I decided to look at things rationally. We had a problem. Now we had to fix it. If it could be fixed, that is. I spent hours and hours reading all that I could on the internet about stuttering or stammering. Searching the web for information on the subject was a highly frustrating experience. There were so many theories and contrasting views on dealing with stuttering in children. There were also numerous cases mentioned on the discussion boards of parenting sites about children aged between 2.5 and 3 years who suddenly started stuttering. But they were fine in 3 to 6 months. Apparently, it is a developmental stage, where the child’s brain is absorbing so much information that it tends to get taxed, but learns to overcome the pressure in a few months. This information was so reassuring. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was going to be okay.

But then I tried to find out how to deal with it or react to it as parents. Unfortunately, nothing was helpful. While some sites mentioned ignoring the problem, some said that we must ask the child to speak slowly. Some sites said NEVER ask the child to speak slowly. Some sites said therapy is not needed for such a young child, while some insisted that the sooner the child receives therapy, the better. All this while, Zainab’s stammer worsened. She was stammering at every sentence and every morning I realised with a growing sense of panic, it was getting much, much worse.

My chirpy talkative baby girl was struggling to speak. She couldn’t understand what was happening to her. She asked me once, “What’s happened to my voice, mamma?” And I had no answer to that. It was heart breaking. I mentally winced and cried for her everytime I heard her struggling to express herself. But I kept up the smile on my face, determined to never let her get any inkling of our worry.

We spoke to her teacher at her playgroup, to other parents, we met doctors and therapists. To a cut a long story short, we decided to go to a speech therapist because we needed an expert to tell us what to do. I’m so thankful to God that we didn’t delay any further. We learnt that there are so many theories about why disfluencies occurs in children but no concrete proof. That means science has no idea why some people stutter. The therapist said that a popular reasoning is that children in this age group are learning and absorbing so much information and their language is in the crucial developmental stage, that their brain gets overworked, manifesting itself as a stutter.

Obviously, there was no point in beating ourselves up about it and instead we had to focus on solving the problem. We were told that we were to bring Zainab for weekly sessions but mostly it was important for the parents to continue this model at home and have similar daily sessions with the child. Miraculously, after just 2 sessions, Zainab underwent a major change overnight. Today, all of the sudden, she was almost her old fluent self again. Nobody will say she has any problem with her speech. But rather than get complacent, we know we have to patiently work with her to remove the problem completely and stop it from recurring.

It is mind numbing to realise you child has a problem. Especially one that is difficult to comprehend. For a while I could feel my world shattering around me. Because of Zainab’s charm, intelligence, quick witty speech and her confidence we had dreamed big dreams for her. I had even pictured her as an active participant in the school debate team one day. These weeks have strained our nerves and I wondered where Zainab’s life would lead her.

But today was a promise of a better tomorrow. It was a reminder that nothing is constant. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Zainab is a fighter. She is not ready to let something like this get in the way of what she loves to do. TALK! Best Blogger Tips

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  1. Hey congrats on your beautiful mommy writer award you truely deserved it. I am so happy that Zainab has regained her fluency. Allahumdulilah Masha Allah. May Allah protect her from evil eyes and keep her happy always.

  2. Alhamdulillah...Zainab is back to her fluent self. Really tears you apart when you yourself first have to accept there maybe something up with your child. That's true though..she seems like a fighter just like her mom :-)

  3. When the going gets tough,the tough gets going! :) I'm glad you wrote this post coz sometimes when we put our thoughts into words,it gives us a more clear picture&clears up the fog in our mind.I am waiting to read your post when you blog about how Z won in her school's debate team only few yrs from now!:)

  4. @Vids: Can I give you a hug, please. Your comment brought tears to my eyes. God bless you.

  5. :) anytime!I am one frenzied mom who is as much in need of a hug as you are!