Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
When my son Nicholas was seven years old he developed both a motor tic and visual tic. The stuttering and eye blinking went on for several months before disappearing as quickly as they arrived. A few months later they started up again and it was attributed to the sporadic visits from his Father.
During this time period I found the book Ben Has Something To Say: A Storybook About Stuttering. The image of Ben in an expressionless stare on the cover prompted me into reading the book.
Initially I wanted to peruse the book while at the library and read it at home with Nicholas, but after reading through the book I decided not to share it with him. Ben Has Something To Say: A Storybook About Stuttering is about the weekly visits to a junkyard with his father, and the guard dog he grows fond of. Since my son has a fear of dogs as well as being OCD and on the Autism Spectrum, I knew the story would not make an impression on him.
The first two pages within the book are geared to the parents and teachers of children who stutter. This explains to the reader what stuttering is and is not. "Stuttering is a communication disorder that ha long defied definitions that could encompass its complex nature. Therefore, it is important to understand what stuttering is not."
"Stuttering is not predictable, caused by parents, caused by talking too fast or an emotional disorder. Avoid giving advice such as “slow down” or “take a deep breath”. Such ideas are simplistic answers to a complex problem, and are not helpful to the person who stutters."
Ben does not like to read aloud at school and finds way to avoid having to endure this trauma so no one would hear him stutter. He would pretend to have a cough thus the need to leave the classroom for the water fountain. Ben looked forward to Friday afternoons when his father would pick him up for school on his way to Wayne’s Junkyard in search of tools he needed for his job as a mechanic.
Ben felt at ease chatting with his father knowing he would not get laughed at or teased when he stuttered. When they first arrived at the junkyard Ben was distracted by the big black dog chained to the doghouse. "The dog’s pointed ears seemed too big for his head, and his tail swished so fast it stirred up a cloud of dust."
Mr. Wayne ran the junkyard and assured Ben that Spike would not hurt him and he could pet Spike. Spike really enjoyed the attention from Ben and Mr. Wayne noticed that Ben never spoke. "Say, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you talk", said Mr. Wayne. "What’s the matter, cat got your tongue".
Ben would smile or nod to indicate a reply when Mr. Wayne spoke to him. The following week Ben brought a rubber bone for Spike, but before he could offer it to the dog his Dad told him to clear it first with Mr. Wayne. In quite a clever move Ben placed the bone on the counter in front of Mr. Wayne and pointed to Spike. When Mr. Wayne confirmed what Ben was trying to indicate Ben nodded before heading out to Spike with the bone.
Mr. Wayne is now under the impression that Ben is a shy boy. As they were leaving Ben told his Dad that the following week he would bring a blanket for Spike. Upon entering the junkyard Ben tried to get his father to talk to Mr. Wayne on his behalf. "You know you can’t let your stuttering keep you from talking," he said. Of course Ben knew that! Mrs. Hansen his speech therapist, told him all the time. Ben stomped his foot. "I d-don’t care!" he cried. "I… I’m not talking until my sss… stuttering goes away!" "Sorry" said Dad. "But I can’t talk for you".
This time Ben wrote a note to Mr. Wayne as a way to communicate about Spike. Mr. Wayne told Ben he was spoiling Spike and allowed him to give him the blanket. The illustrations show Ben and his father wearing warmer clothing as winter is closing in. The next week the water dish is frozen as Ben breaks the ice with a stick offering Spike fresh water.
Ben then notices that the fur on Spike is dull and matted so his plan for the following week is a brush for Spike. Ben thinks that Spike is not very happy being a guard dog and would rather be a pet. The next visit Ben notices immediately that something is off at the junkyard. It turns out that Mr. Wayne was robbed and not too keen on keeping Spike since he never barked to alert of the robbery. Mr. Wayne tells Ben and his father that Spike is going to the pound.
This shocks Ben as he turns to his father to speak on his behalf, but he realizes if he wants to save Spike he is going to have to appeal to Mr. Wayne on his own. Because Ben was so upset he did not care if his words were broken and jumbled. Ben wanted to buy Spike with his own money and his Dad agreed to Spike as a pet for Ben.
On the ride home Spike sat in the truck between Ben and his Dad. Ben told his father that sometimes there are things that you just have to say and this was one time it paid off. Ben even considered telling the kids at school about acquiring Spike, thinking he was now brave enough to do so.
The illustrations in Ben Has Something To Say: A Story About Stuttering portrays the delightful play between Ben and Spike, as well as the concerned look on Mr. Wayne when contemplating why Ben is never talking. I enjoyed observing the maneuvers Ben cooked up in an attempt to avoid talking. The concern that Ben showed for the dog increased as the weeks went by, drawing the reader into this blossoming friendship.
One aspect in the text of the book was a bit different to me. Each time a comma was placed on the page it was followed with a period. I tried not to let it distract me, but I did find myself trying to copy the format when taking notes. Basically the period was on top of the comma, making them look like one character of text. I am not sure why this was done, maybe a signature style for the author.
As far as books go about teaching children on issues relating to disorders I did not feel this book did that great a job. I was impressed more by the illustrations than the neat story that had the happy ending, if only it were this easy to overcome stuttering for a child.
Previously published on Epinions
Everything You Need to know when a brother or sister is Autistic
Laughing and Loving with Autism
Having fun with Idioms