Therapist’s similes deliver smiles

It doesn’t take long to determine that Adrien Pettit finds helping children with speech problems a fulfilling and rewarding career. Her face lights up when she talks about a child who’s overcome stuttering or an inability to produce certain sounds.

Yet as much as the speech language pathologist loves what she does, she admits that there can be very real stress in dealing with little ones – some of them autistic – who are dealing with disorders that can make them act out their frustrations.

What she has found, in addition to regular yoga, is that frequent laughter can keep her positive, energetic, less prone to ailments, upbeat for her important work. It also makes her clients less anxious.

It’s not uncommon to find her joking with a 6-year-old boy – “How long have you been married?” – or laughing as she shares some humor with educators between her appointments at two Clark County School District schools.

So it was the other day at West Prep Elementary School. She passed around “language therapy” to teachers that purportedly was the product of the nation’s speech therapists collecting their “best similes” from clients, including:

■ The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

■ His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

■ The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

■ She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room- temperature Canadian beef.

■ She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

The kind of belly laughter that Pettit and her colleagues derive from such off-the-wall comparisons really can have the medicinal value that Pettit reports it has, according to Dr. Mitchell Forman, dean of the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Henderson.

Not only has he seen its stress-reducing value for both him and patients during 37 years as a rheumatologist, he’s also closely examined the studies done on what is often known as “laughter therapy.”

Numerous studies of people in pain or discomfort have found that when they laugh they report that their pain doesn’t bother them as much.

“I’ve certainly seen that in my medical practice,” he said.

Other studies have shown the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the level of immune cells. And researchers studying the effects of laughter on blood vessels found that when people watch comedies their vessels expand and contract easily, while those watching dramas tense up, restricting blood flow.

Forman noted that the focus on benefits of laughter really began with late Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins’ 1991 memoir, “Anatomy of an Illness.”

Diagnosed with a painful spine condition, Cousins found that a diet of comedies that included Marx Brothers films and episodes of “Candid Camera,” made him feel better. He said 10 minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.

“He who laughs, lasts,” Forman said.

In that spirit, here are a few more of the similes that Pettit recently shared with colleagues:

■ He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

■ Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

■ Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a ThighMaster.

■ Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

■ The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.

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