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August 19, 2021

Meet Vanessa - How early therapy can make a difference

Vanessa is the mother of a three year old boy, Miles. One day, a few months ago, he woke from a nap, and Vanessa noticed started to stutter. Very quickly Vanessa took measures to start therapy, and met with Dr. Suzie Fosnot. During this interview Erich, co-founder of Say It Labs, and Vanessa discuss how she met fluency specialist Dr. Suzi Fosnot, how Miles overcame his stutter, how important and effective therapy has been for Miles and his confidence, and how it has changed both of their lives.

Erich :

Hi Vanessa, hope everything is ok. So, can we start by talking a little bit about your journey with your child, their age when things started and just maybe give us a little bit of a background on that?

Vanessa :

Yeah. Well, Miles just turned three. He's three and almost three months old. And so back in January of this year, he was about two and a half. He's always been a slow talker, first of all. Even at two years old, he was still very quiet. A lot of single word phrases. By the time he turned two and a half, my husband went back to work. And so little Miles went from spending all day with my husband to all day with me. And so naturally I'm reading more to him and practicing more. And in January, his language just went through the roof. He was just learning so many words. And I think that combined with the scheduled change with dad going to work and spending more time with me.

I noticed shortly after that, maybe February-ish, he woke up from a nap one day and he couldn't pronounce any vowels at all. He was saying airplane and all these words, and he just couldn't even spit the word out. And it was after a nap so I'm like, okay, maybe he's tired. Let's just leave him alone. And it didn't go away for several days. And I got really concerned because I felt like his consonants would start to sneak their way in there. And he couldn't say S words at all anymore. And so I freaked out and called a couple of speech pathologists. And he did get evaluated by, I forget the name of the group, they're here in Reseda. But he was evaluated there. They said he does need therapy. Let's start it. And something just told me. I wasn't really comfortable there.

I wanted to do a little bit more research and I found Dr. Suzi's information. I saw that she's been doing this since 1985. And I think I even read a little bit about her college thesis. And that really spoke to me. So I called her, we set it up. And I think maybe after my first appointment, I already had some tools to really help him to slow down and to just be able to take his time articulating a word. And that really helped. I remember in the car when he was singing, Mary had a little lamb and he got stuck. He was like, "Mary ha," and he just couldn't do it. And one of the tools Dr. Suzi gave was let's just help him visualize, "Mary ha," and he's saying it right away after that. I really cried in the car. I was so heartbroken when he woke up with that stutter. And after the first one with Dr. Suzi, we had tools to take it head on. So it was really great.

Erich :

So he woke up from that nap in Januar, how long did it take you to find Dr. Suzi then?

Vanessa :

Did I make an appointment with her in March or April? I think in April we started therapy. So I must've been in contact with her in March sometime.

Erich :

Okay. So there must have been two, three months. Maybe it was January or February. I saw you hesitate a little bit exactly when, but basically what it was is you had maybe a couple of good months where you saw Miles with disfluent speech. Is that right? Was it progressing? Was it getting worse? Was it just very disfluent? What was it like before you had met Dr. Suzi?

Vanessa :

I felt like it was getting worse. We started out with the vowels and when we moved to the consonants, that's when he really started running out of breath. Because with the vowel, he just wasn't breathing and he just would give up. But then when it came to like the S sound, for example, he would [inaudible 00:04:10] and then just run out of breath and you could see him crumble. He would just start crying and it was emotionally taking a toll on him. So it was getting worse, I think, before I saw Dr. Suzi.

Erich :

Had he had any interactions with other children between that time?

Vanessa :

Oh yeah. Yeah. We were still seeing cousins and my family. And I noticed that I couldn't really overwhelm him emotionally or socially. I think we did skip a birthday party because I just wasn't comfortable. I didn't want him to crumble or anything. So we did see family, but now looking back on it, I kind of avoided them during that. More social interactions with younger kids, I kind of avoided that during that time.

Erich :

And what were you afraid of actually?

Vanessa :

I didn't want him to be emotionally overwhelmed and I didn't want him to see his cousins and 

want to talk to them, but just crumble like I had been seeing him because he couldn't spit a word out.

Erich :

That's so painful as a parent. I mean, it's incredibly painful. You just love your child so much. And when you see them frustrated, you're 10 times more frustrated. 10 times more vulnerable feeling. So what is Miles's speech like today? We're in August <2021>. So this is May, June, July <2021>. This is some four months later.

Vanessa :

Yeah. He's been speaking really well. He's asking questions and everything. I feel like his curiosity's still developing and everything's moving great. Like I said earlier, the only thing is when he talks in sentences, he really will pause for a long time to try to find... He starts a sentence before I feel like he knows what he's going to say. And so Dr. Suzi, I still use her tools where we're going to let him finish the sentence. Not me. Even though I still struggle with that from time to time, depending on where we're at, but we just give him the space to try to pull the word. Maybe offer between two suggestions, like you said, Dr. Suzi. "Do you want to go here or do you want to go there?" And kind of avoiding yes or no questions so that he has two options to speak to choose from. But yeah, his speaking's been great. We've been having great conversations. He's asking questions and he repeats what we're saying perfectly. So it's been great. 

Erich :

Can you imagine where you would be if you hadn't found someone like Dr. Suzi to help you and Miles?

Vanessa :

I mean, I don't know what the other programs offer. I know Dr. Suzi says that they don't do the things that she does. I believe that. I think if I hadn't pursued any kind of therapy at all, it would just be bad. Because I've been around children my whole life. I've never seen anything like what he was doing before. So yeah, I really can't speak to other programs. I don't know what they offer. I've seen some YouTubes and things like that, but I know I made the right decision coming to Dr. Suzi, of course.

Erich :

So, I was at a school and in Boston, one of the best. And when I was taking my stuttering, my fluency class, we learned a lot about how you can accept stuttering, but we never really learned about the treatment except for slowing down helps, but not really understanding why. And it's interesting because the brain of a person who stutters is wired slightly differently than a person who doesn't stutter. And the thing is when you're young, because of neuroplasticity, if you target certain motor skills, certain motor speech skills, you can rewire that part of the brain. It's really deep in the brain. Part of the brain called the striatum. It's really a critical part that's responsible for speech, timing and rhythm. And if you can address certain skills, that part of the brain really gets addressed. And the neuroplasticity of our young brains especially, can really adapt very quickly.

And that's something that Dr. Suzi knows quite a bit about. And she uses techniques in her therapy that addresses that without talking about the neurology or the neuroscience behind it. So I think you're extremely lucky because there are a couple of camps in school and there are a couple of camps of stuttering therapy that are quite different. And basically as a person or as a parent, you get to pick what you think is best, but if fluency is what you're aiming to achieve, then I think you could not have gotten a better therapist than Dr. Suzi, because she's really like the crème de la crème, as they say.

So I have a question for you then. And I think I already know the answer to it, but I'd like to ask it just so I can hear it from your mouth. On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you and how happy do you think Miles is with his life, with his quality of life, his communication skills basically today compared to say a few months ago?

Vanessa :

Oh, definitely a 10. Miles doesn't even think about it anymore. And he still asks for Dr. Suzi, by the way. He still wants to play those games. So we can pop in at least once a year, I think. But yeah, he loves his life. He knows how to articulate. If he can't find the word, he'll come back to it later. He's not going to have any more meltdowns about it. He's strong. So yeah, definitely a 10 out of 10. And I think the way you worded it, by the way, just the rewiring of the brain, I feel like that's exactly what happened. I feel like there was something going on with his motor to brain communication back and forth. And something happened after that first visit where it was already back on track kind of.

Erich :

Yeah, it's incredible. Dr. Suzi is a magician when it comes to that. She's like the black box. You don't know what's really happening. But it's really awesome to see how children, especially young children, how they emerge. And I got to applaud you, congratulate yourself for taking the steps, especially while Miles was young. A lot of people don't know what they would or shouldn't do. A lot of people go to their pediatricians and they say, "Don't worry, they'll just outgrow it." They go to friends, "They'll just outgrow it." But if they don't, you had an opportunity while they were doing it to kind of nip it at the bud. And that's something that a lot of parents don't always know the right thing to do, but that's what we would wish all parents did. So congratulations, it's amazing that you did that. Also a lot of people want to wait a year before they treat and he was only two months into it. What do you think would have happened if we would've waited a year?

Vanessa :

Oh, I think it might've gotten worse or it would still be present, I think. I had already waited a couple of weeks and there was no improvement. And like I said before that, he was learning fine and it's like he woke up one day and something was off. And so I think if we would have waited, it just would have continued to grow at that off-track pace.

Erich :

Can you attribute anything in that week? Was he sick? Did he get shots?

Vanessa :

That day we went for a walk. I was thinking, did I over exhaust him? But he did sleep. I can chalk it up to probably the schedule change a couple of weeks prior to that. But I think it all just kind of was going to happen anyway, because even before that he was starting to repeat phrases over and over. Nothing in particular. No one thing. I think it was a combination of all those factors.

Erich :

Yeah. I think if things start to persist over months at a time, it's definitely something you need to address and you definitely did the right thing. So I hope you guys can keep jamming together and singing and everything else with the music.

Vanessa :

Yeah. He loves those drums. And thank you guys. Anytime you want to talk more, if you have more questions, I'm always here. Whatever you guys need.


Erich Reiter

Erich holds a Masters in Computational Linguistics from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Masters in Communication Disorders from Massachusetts General Hospital. Erich brings 15 years of industry experience working as both a speech recognition scientist (Nuance Communications) and speech and language pathologist.

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