The objective for the child who stutters is to provide a successful and comfortable speaking environment in the classroom. Some children who stutter develop avoidance behaviors through fear of speaking or reading aloud in class. They are afraid of being teased or worse not being able to talk at all. This often leads to shame and embarrassment which interferes with academic performance and diminishes self esteem. Teachers are vital to the child’s success in the classroom, but they can’t be expected to know how to adequately deal with every communication disorder presented to them. Don’t be concerned if stuttering appears to be a complex and multifaceted disorder, because it most definitely is. A comfortable learning environment, however, might prevent stuttering from progressing, ultimately enhancing a child’s ability to communicate. The following are ideas to enhance the classroom environment in hopes of facilitating academic success and effective communication.
- Try and get feedback from the child, parents and speech pathologist before assigning highly demanding speaking tasks. Hopefully the child is receiving fluency therapy from a stuttering specialist who can guide you in the right direction.
- Call on the child who stutters whose hand is raised first. This will avoid anxiety from persisting and encourage the child to raise his hand again.
- Try to allow adequate time for the child who stutters to answer questions-don’t finish sentences or rush the answer. Try and convey that you are patiently waiting, establishing eye contact and interested in the content of the answer.
- If a child seems hesitant to raise their hand, you might try asking a yes/no response to ensure success. Unconditional listening is optimal.
- If you notice teasing issues, it might be best to educate the class on stuttering. This can be done by first educating the class in general about respecting each other and the “differences” exhibited by people in general. The SLP might be able to assist you in the best way in dealing with stuttering education for this child. Some children might enjoy being part of the presentation and some children don’t want any part of it. However, teasing and bullying can not be tolerated and must somehow cease.
- Be careful not to add time pressure to the mix, for ex: rapid turn taking, cutting off the child if the answer is too lengthy or incorrect, rapid attendance taking. Try and slow your presentation style and pause often.
- Be wary about “excusing” a child from oral presentations due to stuttering. It might be a convenient way for them not to perform. If the child seems ok with it, then there is no reason to address it. If not, consult parents and SLP on best ways to handle the situation.
- Refrain from advice such as “relax”, slow down”, “say it over”, or “take a breath”. This type of advice can cause damage to the child and make him more conscious of his speech. It will also humiliate him in front of his peers.
- If the child is working on a fluency tool, please consult with the SLP and child on the best way to work on carryover in the classroom.
On a personal note, I stuttered severely as a child. I never once raised my hand from kindergarten through college. I think I volunteered once in my masters program, but can’t swear to it. As=2 0a result shame and embarrassment developed. My mission was to hide my stuttering. However, I was in internal conflict within myself. Ironically, I was able to do oral presentations in class for many years very fluently, until 10th grade when I stuttered during a Spanish oral report. I was humiliated and the situation never addressed. The teacher never called on me again and I spent most of the year with my head down. I used to panic when attendance was taken out of fear of not being able to say “here”. I became very “clever” at manipulating my way out of oral presentations. If I had to introduce myself, I conveniently went out to the bathroom. Interestingly, I was fluent in speech therapy because the fear of being called out of class for a session was embarrassing. As a result, I was quickly discharged. My parents couldn’t understand this since I was stuttering severely at home. Children who stutter need to be seen by a speech pathologist specializing in stuttering therapy and require an optimal learning environment.