Debbie Picken knew her son Robbie was struggling with stuttering when he was 2. Finding help wasn’t as easy as realizing there was a problem, however. In first grade the school therapist put Robbie and five kids with articulation problems in a room and had them color, Debbie says. "There was no one in this area who dealt with stuttering," says Picken, who lives on the South Side of Chicago.
Now 13, Robbie struggles tremendously with speech. Talking on the phone is all but impossible, so in an emergency Robbie would have to be able to get to the home’s landline, where emergency personnel would have his address via computer. Debbie worries about Robbie’s ability to navigate the world on his own, something he’s forced to do often because she is at work.
"At school, he’s right at home, but outside of school if something happened I’d worry," Debbie says. His current speech therapists are working on social situations. "To go out and order food, it’s really hard. I’ve told him you have to do it, because when you’re out you have to ask for directions or order food."
Debbie knows she won’t always be with Robbie as he gets older, so she pushes him to do more for himself. "My biggest thing with Robbie is, I don’t want him to not be able to do things. It’s fine to learn to live with it, but I don’t want him to settle for just stuttering. But it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do with his speech."
Robbie and Debbie have searched everywhere for help, including intensive speech therapy and the use of a variety of speech devices. Still, Debbie hopes that someday something they try will click for Robbie.
In the meantime, she has seen some positives in how her son handles his stuttering. "If he sees someone who struggles in another way, he always helps," Debbie says. Her close-knit family provides support and acceptance of Robbie’s stuttering, which has helped him maintain self-confidence despite his difficulties.
"You look at the kid (who stutters) and you don’t see anything wrong with them. But to not be able to get out what you want to say, it’d be a horrible thing," Debbie says. "I want him to be confident, to not worry about what other people think."
For Robbie, a middle school football player, he gains confidence from seeing others like him who have succeeded despite stuttering. When Chicago Bears football player Adrian Peterson, a stutterer, recently spoke on television, Robbie was thrilled to see what Peterson could do. It gives him hope for his own future. In a recent letter to Peterson, Robbie wrote: "You set a high standard for all stutterers, you show what bravery and a lot of guts can do for a person. ... I just want you to know that someone appreciates you for who you are and how great a football player you are."
Debbie just hopes that as he grows up, people appreciate what a great person Robbie is too.