For some time now, one of my twin grandsons, who is eight years old, has been complaining of stuttering, babbling and slurring his words. His brother often chimes in in agreement saying, “Me too!” I also have a granddaughter with a speech impediment, who sometimes shares with me her frustration with the way she speaks.
Until recently, we haven’t told our grandchildren that there is a reason why they stutter, stammer, and sometimes struggle to formulate their thoughts. Both have Tourette syndrome and severe ADHD.
We didn’t mention it because there is something wrong or because we are ashamed of the condition. My grandchildren weren’t at an age where their mom or I felt comfortable telling them in a way they could understand. But we knew the day would come when they would start to notice how different they are from each other and their peers.
We talk openly about their conditions instead of instilling a sense of shame in them. Their mom and I agreed a long time ago that we would never keep them in the dark once they started asking these tough questions.
In fact, when my grandchildren confide in me about their speech problems, I often tell them that I have a hard time speaking too. I don’t have Tourette syndrome, but complex PTSD combined with severe ADHD with dissociation and severe anxiety. When I try to verbalize my thoughts, which are many, my words are few and often I pause. It doesn’t always happen, but often, especially when I have days where I’m not in a good mental space.
My thoughts bounce around like numbered balls in a lottery machine most of the time. Then they all decide to enter the channel at the same time, preventing me from speaking clearly. I rarely talk on the phone or have long conversations with people because I don’t know when this mental block will occur.
It’s stressful and sometimes anxiety about the subject makes it worse. But of course, as a writer, I can send long, conversational messages all day long, sometimes to the (loving) annoyance of my long-suffering spouse, friends, and family.
Sometimes I’ve been very embarrassed when I’m in the middle of a sentence and poof! My thought is gone, disappearing like a puff of smoke. And I’m left apologizing to the other person. I’ve even asked my doctor and therapist, “Am I losing my mind? Is there something wrong with me?”
They remind me that no, I’m not losing my mind. And yes, I have neurological and mental health issues that prevent me from thinking and speaking as clearly as I would like. But it’s nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about when it happens. Easier said than done in the moment of a lost thought or stumbling words in public, of course.
So when my grandchildren complain about their struggles to verbalize without stuttering or slurring words, I tell them that I understand their challenges. I struggle too. I don’t try to shut them up like it’s a shame. Let’s talk about how hard it is to express ourselves. We talk about our shame and wish things were different or better.
If they feel bad about themselves, I acknowledge it and say, “I know, it’s so frustrating. Sometimes I feel the same way. But did you know that having ‘thing xyz’ doesn’t mean you’re less of someone? If not? Everyone we struggle with something, some more than others.” And I show or explain a problem I have and how I solve or manage it.
So, we talk about our struggles openly and honestly with our children. We bring awareness to the needs and issues of life with special needs. We support and accept those with physical or mental health disorders instead of acting like it’s something to be ashamed of and something to hide.
As parents, grandparents, carers and a community as a whole, we can help children with difficulties in our care feel more accepted and less ashamed of their conditions. Not just now, but for generations to come, because what children learn when they are young is what they carry with them as they grow older.
— Dawn-Renée Rice is a coach, writer, speaker, and columnist for Conscious Connection Parenting in the Northeast Texas area. She and her husband have been married for 23 years, share three children, 11 grandchildren and a fur baby. To follow Dawn-Renée, sign up for email updates or connect on social media, visit her online at linktr.ee/dawnreneerice.