Back to school season fills children with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. They may feel eager to reunite with friends, participate in clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities, and to continue learning (even if they refuse to admit it!) On the flip side, they might be nervous about making new friends, getting accepted socially by peers, and if new teachers will be nice or mean. As children get a bit older, they might also worry about achieving good grades.
Inevitably, the first day of school arrives. Take a minute and try to put yourself in the shoes of a 4th grader on the morning of that first day:
In an effort to help everyone get to know each another, your teacher decides to go around the room for everybody to introduce themselves and share a fun summer break story. The anxiety builds as your turn approaches. “Hi, I’m…”, but to your dismay, your name doesn’t readily come out. You try starting with a different phrase, “My name is…”, again, nothing. You want so badly to say your name, a seemingly rudimentary task, but you are a child who stutters and your name happens to be one of the most difficult things for you to say. Finally, your name comes out after what seems like an eternity. How will your friends react to what they just heard? Will this set the tone for how you choose to participate for the rest of the year?
As speech-language pathologists, we can offer a child who stutters and their family several tools to help them minimize the negative impact of stuttering and develop healthy communication attitudes. This often starts with education and advocacy. For young children, the parents might take on much of the educating and advocating, while also exposing their child to useful approaches to help school staff “get it.” However, as they get older, parents can gradually relinquish this role to their child.
The following examples offer our students or clients who stutter ways to take an active role in creating a safe and nurturing environment within their school. I always share or remind students or their parents of these tips around this time of year:
- Talk to new teachers about what stuttering is and how you’d like them to respond when you stutter (alternatively, the child can write them a letter or an email).
- Prepare answers to common comments or questions classmates might ask about stuttering.
- Come up with a quick “go-to” line to say to classmates and teachers so they know how to react when you stutter: “I stutter, so I’m going to need you to be a little patient. I like to say things on my own.”
- Pick one close friend from class to educate about stuttering who can then act as an advocacy partner.
- Volunteer to give a short presentation or Q&A session about stuttering to the class.
Supporting self-advocacy skills helps your student adopt an attitude of openness and self-acceptance. For children who stutter, hiding or avoiding stuttering might seem like an effective short-term solution. However, I find dealing with stuttering head on goes a long way toward creating positive and lasting change for a client’s self-esteem. Children who stutter can achieve their full potential, both academically and socially, with the right attitude, knowledge and support, so help them start on day one!
Alex Whelan, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at The Stuttering Clinic at National Therapy Center. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. You can contact him at Alex.Whelan@NationalTherapyCenter.com
This article was also featured on the ASHA Leader blog and can be accessed here.