I cannot say that as a kid I was very much aware of my brother’s difficulties. Sixteen months after I was born, he was born premature, very small, and called, at the time, a “blue baby.” Not long after that, my mother had another boy, born without complications.
From time to time, I would hear the term “speech impediment” in conversations between my parents regarding my brother, but it held little meaning to me. We three were great buddies and did everything together. What did impact me regarding my brother’s difficulty came about when we played a game while riding in the car. We were to spot fire hydrants and shout Red Rover! We all were pretty good at spotting them, but it seemed my brother was better. We’d hear, “R-r-r-r-r-r.” Then we’d look and shout, “Red Rover!” The first to shout it got the point. My brother got no points.
This went on and somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5, my brother managed to say to our mother, “Mommy, Mommy, I can’t talk.”
My mother had a college degree and significant accomplishments to her name before embarking on motherhood. My father made a good living. They lived outside the great city of New York with world-class doctors. I’m sure my mother marched off confidently to find the cure to her first-born son’s speech difficulties.
But doctor after doctor told her the same thing – he would always stutter. When they said that, I can just hear my mother saying, “Hand me my coat.” She was not one to accept defeat, and especially not without even trying. She was on to the next doctor and the next. But they all said the same thing. “He will always stutter.”
Lucky it was that my brother was born to a woman who refused to accept this defeatist answer. At last her search led her to a place in Philadelphia called the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP). There she found hope; she found doctors who had a plan for my brother. It would take hours every day, would involve getting numerous people to help, family, friends and neighbors.
This was back in the early 1960s. But the IAHP premise and belief seems to have changed very little since that time. Here is an excerpt from their current website: www.iahp.org/brain-injured-children/:
“All that we do to speed the process is to provide visual, auditory and tactile stimulation with increased frequency, intensity and duration in recognition of the orderly way in which the human brain grows. We then arrange for the child to have the maximum opportunity in an ideal environment to use and develop the motor pathways.
“For more than a half-century, the heart of The Institutes program has been based upon the fact that the brain grows by use. Scientists now recognize the plasticity of the human brain and new research in neuroplasticity confirms that the brain is incredibly capable of recovery and rehabilitation. The old notion that once the brain is injured there is no means of recovery has been discarded.”
My parents left with a host of exercises involving my brother lying on a table while four people moved his arms and legs, looking through glasses with different-colored lenses, lots of creeping and crawling around the house, and even sleeping in a certain position.
We three children did all these exercises together, except for the ones where people moved my brother’s limbs. We would crawl round and round our house, and my mother would be there, on the floor, with an art book open showing us pictures of famous artists’ work.
After many trips to Philadelphia, and doing these exercises for years, my brother has no speech difficulties at all.
Would he have outgrown them spontaneously over time? Who knows. But my mother didn’t want to take that chance.
Isabel Reddy lives in Chapel Hill.