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It is likely that as an educator you will regularly encounter children who stutter. In fact, if you have a classroom of 20 children, it is estimated that one of them is or has been a stutterer at some point.
When a child has a stuttering problem, she may find certain speaking situations uncomfortable. This may very well affect academic participation and performance. It may also affect social opportunities and could be the target of bullying or teasing. Knowing how to identify and address the needs of a student who stutters will help increase his chance of success.
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What Can I Do as a Teacher to Help?
If you become concerned about stuttering with a child in your classroom, take some time to observe the speech behavior in different scenarios. What do you notice when the child answers questions in class? Is it different when speaking to the class versus speaking to you privately at your desk? How is the child’s speech when he/she reads aloud? How do you and other students respond to the child’s speech? When does speech become easier or more difficult for the child? What are your other concerns regarding this child’s speech? Take these notes to your school’s speech language pathologist (SLP) and make a referral. The SLP will screen and recommend therapy, if necessary. Along with the child, the parents, and the SLP, you will have a better plan for addressing the needs of your student.
Regardless of the plan of therapy, there are a few things you can do in your classroom to encourage fluent speech. The number one goal is to create a low pressure speaking environment, filled with patience and good listening techniques. Keep eye contact with your student and do not finish his/her sentences. A competitive, rushed, or pressured speaking environment will likely increase stuttering; give time to the speaker and listen patiently. Do not say “slow down" or “just relax" as this actually places more pressure on the speaker. When the child is finished speaking, pause briefly to express that you are in no rush to finish the exchange. Model speaking in an unhurried way. Reduce interruptions and encourage good turn taking with both talking and listening. Convey that it is the content of the message that is important, not how it is said, and continue to expect quality work from your student. These tips will help all of the students in your class.
If your student is in therapy for stuttering, talk to him/her about stuttering in a matter-of-fact way. Include the student and SLP in ideas about how to best accommodate his/her needs. Understand that the techniques used in therapy may not immediately be brought into the classroom. Learning new skills takes time. The SLP will let you know if there’s something the student should be carrying over to the classroom.
The student may have specific desires about how people respond to his/her stuttering. If teasing or bullying is a problem, talk with your student about how this could best be handled. Follow the bullying guidelines of your school and address it accordingly. In addition, your student may want you to address the class openly. If the child is far enough along and comfortable enough in his/her therapy, he/she may want to do a presentation with the SLP to the class about stuttering. Information is power and is the best way to create empathy and support in classmates. The Stuttering Foundation of America has brochures and information for creating a peer-focused presentation.
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As a teacher, it is important to realize that stuttering is a disorder that is not the fault of anyone. While your student may be receiving therapy, changing speech patterns is very difficult. Be supportive of your student and ask your school’s SLP for information that can further help you understand the needs of your student. Your new skills and knowledge will come in useful over your years as an educator.