Reaching a new octave: How stuttering treatment helped grow a mother-daughter relationship

MOTHER'S DAY FEATURE - Mothers are our confidants. They're the ones who are by our sides for all of life's challenges-illnesses, heartbreaks, bumps, bruises and the like.

Amanda McCarthy - 06 May 2016

Mothers are our confidants. They're the ones who are by our sides for all of life's challenges-illnesses, heartbreaks, bumps, bruises and the like. They always know just what to do in our time of need, no matter the situation. This was especially true for Calgary mother Sacha Kimball, who jumped into action to help her daughter Gabrielle overcome a potentially life-altering issue.

Gabrielle Kimball, 10, has struggled with stuttering since she was in preschool. At the age of three, she received speech therapy to help correct her pronunciations, which was successful. But a few years later, her mother started to notice that her disfluency issues were returning.

"She would pause mid-word and then repeat the final sound twice, so mom would be mo-om-om," Kimball explains. "At the time, our speech-language pathologist suggested that we wait to receive treatment, as Gabrielle had the potential to grow out of it."

But Gabrielle didn't grow out of it. And as her stuttering grew worse, Kimball knew she couldn't wait to help her daughter.

"I'm a teacher, so I've worked with speech-language pathologists for years," she explains. "My son also had fluency issues, so I'm familiar with the process, and knew that Gabrielle needed therapy."

That's when Kimball decided to seek help from speech-language pathologist Gianna Lau. Lau is one of the many talented stuttering experts at the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) in Calgary. Kimball first made contact with ISTAR when her son, now 12, received treatment for his disfluency when he was just four years old.

"Gabrielle was a wonderful young lady to work with," Lau says. "She is a very hard worker, and has a lot of persistence and patience. Most of all, she always comes bearing a smile."

Lau started her career at the University of Alberta's ISTAR in Edmonton as a clinical placement student completing her master's degree. She came into her position with a small knowledge base of stuttering, but soon became invested in the organization's efforts, taking on a full-time position in the Edmonton office and later moving on to the Calgary branch.

"[My clinical placement] was a transformative experience, and I am thrilled to have started my career at ISTAR," she says. "Each individual I have worked with is passionate, dedicated, and creative in collaborating with the clients and their families."

Not commonly known to Calgarians, ISTAR has expanded to Calgary, providing world-class treatment for people who stutter. ISTAR, an institute of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, provides assessments and treatments for individuals who stutter or are experiencing speech-related issues. Clinicians help children, teens and adults overcome their speech and language difficulties so that they can communicate with confidence-something Sacha deeply wanted for her daughter.

"She was quite annoyed when I suggested she go for some help," Kimball says with a laugh. "But she gradually warmed up to the process and began to make rapid improvements in her fluency."

Since her sessions at ISTAR, Gabrielle is now a confident speaker in group and one-on-one settings, utilizing the skills she learned during therapy. And, as Kimball expresses, it's all thanks to Lau's ability as a clinician.

"I'm not sure it would have worked with a therapist who was not as kind and patient."

But Lau doesn't believe she's the only one who should take all the credit for Gabrielle's marked improvements.

"Sacha was homeschooling all four of her children at the time of Gabrielle's therapy, so it took a lot of adaptability, humour and commitment from both Sacha and Gabrielle to make it work," Lau says.

"There were moments of intense emotional clarity during the sessions. Afterward, there was a deeper level of understanding of each other, as mother and daughter, and that was really neat to witness as a clinician."

As the pair's mother-daughter relationship reached a new octave, so did Gabrielle's voice. Now in grade 5, Gabrielle is able to speak fluently in her day-to-day conversations, and even competes in public speaking competitions. She has gone on to win two levels of public speaking, and even made it to the district level of the competition.

"I'm very excited about her speaking achievements," Kimball gushes. "But it's her sweet, kind, compassionate nature that truly makes me a proud mother."

After all of the hard work over the past months, Mother's Day comes at just the right time for Kimball and her daughter.

"I'd love to have a nice, quiet day," Kimball says. "Just cuddle and read with Gabrielle, go for a horseback ride, and maybe even have a barbecue."

And she surely deserves it-for coming to her child's aid when she needed it most, and for inspiring other moms to do the same.

"As a mother, I learned so much from working with Sacha, Gabrielle and their whole family," Lau smiles. "I realized that sometimes it's important to take a step back and reevaluate what matters most at the end of the day."

For more information about ISTAR and how they're helping clients like Gabrielle and Sacha, visit