The other day, I took the kids to a playdate at a friend's house. During our visit, my friend asked me how things were going with Smunch's speech. People don't usually ask, so I hadn't give it a lot of thought lately. I shrugged. "Is it pretty frustrating?" she asked. And that got me to thinking. Well, no. It's not really frustrating anymore. No more frustrating than parenting any other kindergartener, anyway. I'm sure Smunch is still frustrated from time to time.
I realized that I've let go of that desperate hope that he's going to overcome his stuttering. Over the past year or so, with the stuttering constantly waxing and waning, regardless of what kind of therapy we try, I've come to accept that this is something he will struggle with, to some extent or other, for his whole life.
To be very clear, it's not that I've lost hope for my kid. He's got plenty of things going for him. I've just accepted that he may never be typical for a kid his age. He will probably get teased and picked on more than his peers. I can only hope it somehow builds fortitude.
Most days, I forget that Smunch is struggling to talk. Most days, I forget that this makes him different. Most days I make the time to stop and listen carefully when he wants to say something. Other days, I find myself watching him struggle to speak as though I'm watching a train wreck. In the back of my mind, I'm horrified that he has to deal with this...even though I know there are worse things. Just asking his teacher a simple question can be a long, painful process. I watched him do this the other day, just to say he needed to use the bathroom. And once in a while, I just don't have the patience to try and understand him, especially if he's not making the effort to use his speech tools.
This is the price we all pay for his being alive...no minor feat in and of itself.
It also becomes increasingly clear that it's not just stuttering. There are a lot of little things that say it's more. His current speech therapist thinks he might have something more recently recognized, called "cluttering". I think she's right...to a point.
The truth is, it's just the way Smunch speaks and we need to do as much as we can to give him tools to be intelligible, or at the very least not let it destroy his fragile self esteem. That feels a whole lot more daunting than just putting him in speech therapy.
Smunch has a lot of minor issues, most of them are connected to his being a preemie, I suspect and the speech issues are no different. Stuttering is a neurological problem, they say. He had lots of scary drugs and a case of meningitis before he weighed even 4 pounds. Coincidence? I doubt it. Research suggests that more than half of preemies born as small as he was have learning disabilities by the time they are in school. He seems to be doing fine. But I'm watchful, just in case he needs extra help in the future.
I have a prescription from the neurologist for medication (I've never filled it), I take him to the chiropractor with the idea that it's a neurological problem and good spinal and cranial alignment theoretically helps with neurology. He gets private therapy in addition to speech therapy at school. We'll be taking him for a second occupational therapy evaluation this weekend, with a woman who specializes in "sensory issues". I hope she can help, but I don't know that it'll be any more successful than a chiropractor...which hasn't done a thing for him, as far as I can tell, but he likes to play on their machines.
His teacher recently told me that the other kids are starting to point out his difficulties speaking...loudly and publicly. I asked Smunch about it. He said it didn't happen. I don't know what to make of that. Does he care so little, that the criticism didn't register? Or is he so embarrassed that he won't admit that he's having a hard time? The teacher suggested having a talk with the class about differences. I just don't know.
I know that kids are naive and cruel without necessarily meaning to be. I know they're just in kindergarten. I know I was hoping this wouldn't start happening just yet. I also know Smuch's speech has gotten markedly worse in the past week. Connection? Maybe. But I've stopped trying to make those too. It's an exercise in futility. His stuttering changes so much and so often that trying to figure out a reason is usually pointless.
So, I'm not particularly frustrated. I'm tired though. I'm tired of doing our own speech therapy sessions with him each night. I'm tired of worrying that he'll fold under the pressure of his peers. I won't hesitate to make my own life more difficult if it might make his easier, but I sometimes wonder if the best therapy for my little boy might be just to leave him alone.