Read Fast and Don’t Stutter

About the Authors:

kriegerKim Krieger, MS, CCC-SLP BCS-F is a member of ASHA’s Committee on Reading Fluency for School-Age Children Who Stutter and has been a school-based SLP for 36 years. She has worked in Nebraska, Germany and Washington State. Ms. Krieger is also the director of the Successful Stuttering Management Program, a clinician    training    program that provides intensive treatment for adolescent and adult stutterers at Eastern Washington University.
LourdesRamosLourdes Ramos-Heinrichs, MA, CCC-SLP BCS-F is a member of ASHA’s Committee on Reading Fluency for School-Age Children Who Stutter.  She is employed by the Boson Public Schools as a supervisor, therapist and clinic instructor.  She has been a specialist in fluency and fluency disorders for 15 years.  She is experienced in working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

In this paper, we the authors, present a slightly modified letter from a parent about the difficulty her son experienced with a standardized reading test her son has to take in school.  Children in the American school systems often undergo oral reading tests to evaluate their level of reading ability.  For children who stutter, this presents a problem depicted in the parent’s letter. This parent gives permission to share her letter so that other children may not experience these difficulties.

 Letter revised for publication by Kim Krieger M.S. CCC-SLP BCS-F and Lourdes Ramos-Heinrichs M.A. CCC-SLP BCS-F.


My son Landon started stuttering around his 3rd birthday.  In our home, we attributed the stuttering to the challenges to be heard in a talkative family; or we thought that maybe his active mind raced ahead of his verbal skills. Landon’s older brother had a period of stuttering around the same age, but it had quickly passed. In addition, a family member and a friend – both speech-language pathologists, told us not to worry as it was only a developmental phase and would resolve on its own.

Two years later, Landon’s kindergarten teacher presented concerns about the stuttering to the school’s Speech-Language Pathologist. The stuttering seemed to be lessening; but it was still not resolved. Landon just became adept at hiding it; he had become what is known as covert stutterer. Landon figured out what sounds and words troubled him and simply avoided them. He became a master of the synonym, so to speak, skillfully finding alternate words to replace those that seemed to lead to stuttering. At school conferences, my husband and I heard from his teacher about Landon’s high reading lexile (an educational tool that uses a measure to match readers with appropriate leveled reading materials) and yet wondered why he always seemed to fail the oral reading fluency sub-tests from reading instruments such as the DIBELS.  Landon’s school measured reading achievement by having the students read a passage with both rate and accuracy determining pass/fail. Landon sometimes achieved reading accuracy but his speech rate was deemed too high; he spoke too fast. Our family joked that he had the makings of a “fast talking auctioneer”. We did not understand that this rapid rate or “run on speech” was a strategy he cleverly used to avoid stuttering.

Throughout elementary school, his teachers never recorded an on-going problem with stuttering.  Landon regularly participated in school plays, where he recited his lines fluently.  Eventually, we learned that many people who stutter are fluent when playing in a theatrical role.

In fifth grade, Landon was tested and accepted into the school district’s Gifted and Talented program; and yet continued to fail the oral reading fluency tests.  In the spring of sixth grade, he took tests that, when paired with the recommendations from his teachers, decided academic placement at the middle school.  Although Landon tested well, his classroom teacher told him that unless he passed the oral-DIBELS reading fluency test, she could not recommend him for next year’s Honors English class.  Distraught, that day Landon came home from school and confided his upset and frustration.  When asked why the oral reading fluency test was difficult, he replied that when he slowed down to improve rate, his accuracy score plummeted because he would then stutter.  With great introspection, he went on to say that when he speaks, he can change or avoid words that trip him up; but the oral reading tests are rigid and don’t allow that.  If he speaks quickly, he can often push past the sounds that trigger a stutter. In an initial attempt at advocacy, we met with the school’s Speech-Language Pathologist and school principal to talk about stuttering and the need for testing accommodations, which resulted in a 504 plan (504 plans are accommodations for children with disabilities in the American school systems).  To our great relief, the principal agreed to place Landon in the Honors English class.  The 504 was offered in the interim, due to the fact that it was late in the school year, with recommendation for comprehensive speech assessments accommodations to take place in September, after summer vacation.  Through this experience, we learned that standardized reading scores, such as those provided from DIBELS, should not be the only determinant in course placement decisions for children who stutter.  Other important indicators of reading achievement should be used such as informal reading scores, running records, and teacher recommendation

Then again, in seventh grade, Landon reported to his parents that he had been docked a whole grade for speaking too rapidly during an oral presentations.  AND, the Oral Fluency Test DIBELS was back in his life.  This was a newly added assessment to middle school.  After inquiring with school administrators about the 504 plan accommodations regarding oral reading fluency tests and oral presentations, we discovered that his elementary school had as of yet failed to forward the 504 plan to the middle school.  There was no way for the middle school to know about Landon’s stuttering difficulty, as this information did not appear in any of the transferred records.  At the recommendation of the middle school Speech-Language Pathologist, my husband and I requested that a fluency assessment be administered and as a result, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) was created outlining federally mandated testing accommodations.  The IEP included weekly school based stuttering therapy services. Landon will be in high school next year. Although still a covert stutterer, he has learned, in speech therapy, some effective techniques on self-advocacy and has learned strategies to manage his speech fluency and oral communication. He is now able to openly speak about his communication needs and verbalize to his teachers that he stutters and is in need of certain accommodations.

My husband and I have learned a valuable lesson about our son’s education.  We must actively engage in partnership with the school to ensure that his special education needs are met; and that he has as positive experience as possible during the rest of his High school years; and hopefully, he will learn to carry his self-advocacy into the post high school years.


Message from the Authors

◆ The American Speech-Hearing-Language Association (ASHA) formed an Ad hoc committee to address concerns that children who stutter are being placed in lower-level reading groups because of problems reading out loud. Parents and teachers do not feel prepared to manage the variability of school district policies related to the assessment reading achievement tests. This is what we learned:

  • Rigidity in testing is a problem in testing children who stutter
  • Speech-Language Pathologists should get involved to advocate for students who stutter (before, during, and after assessments),
  • Increased administrative support and collaboration is vitally important
  • Other children with speech and language deficits or differences may also have problems on oral reading fluency measures (apraxia, English language learners, hearing impairment, cluttering)
  • Accommodations should start early in the education of the child.
  • Accommodations should be monitored especially at transition periods (semester change, grade level change)

Acknowledgments

Ad Hoc Committee Members:  Diane C. Games (Chair), Kathleen Scaler-Scott, Nina Reeves, Lourdes Ramos-Heinrichs, Karole Howland, Laura Young-Campbell, Kim Krieger, and Diane Paul (ASHA)

Angie Meissner Spencer, parent

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Comments

Read Fast and Don’t Stutter — 35 Comments

  1. A great post! It was very interesting to read, it sounds like your son came up with ways to cope all on his own, My question for you is, was it hard to initiate getting a plan in place for him in order to receive accommodations? After that, how did your son feel after he got accommodations, was he more confident?

    • It was not hard to initiate a plan because we had documentation hinting at the problem going back to kindergarten. In addition, we had the strong support of the school speech therapist who knew my son both as a student and as an actor – as she heads up the school drama program. Both the SLP and I came at it as a question of “how to accommodate”, not “if to accommodate”. Landon felt more confident knowing that a plan was in place and that his teachers were aware of our expectations for accommodation. Once the paperwork was properly in place at the middle school, he never had a problem receiving accommodation.

  2. This is a great read. I am a reading interventionist who often performs standardized reading assessments. I often find that these assessments do not provide the most accurate picture of the true reading abilities for individuals who may have other variables to consider (Apraxia, ADHD, ASD, etc). While I have not worked with an individual who stutters, I do wonder what sorts of assessments (formal and informal) exist that would be a good fit for proper diagnosis of these individuals’ reading abilities (including the aforementioned)?

  3. I enjoyed reading this paper. What a bright guy to figure out ways to compensate on his own! I am curious though, once the 504 and IEP were in place did the SLP, Principal, or any other professional suggest any other standardized assessments to replace the oral-DIBELS? Or was it decided to use alternative assessment such as observation and performance in the classroom as a measure of oral fluency? Thank you.

    • No other alternate measure was suggested by the principal or reading specialist. The SLP (me) and the SLP at the middle school requested that the district look into other standardized assessments. Our district this year has decided to a CBM in place of the Dibels, however there still is a timed oral reading (automaticity) component in this assessment so nothing has changed.

  4. Thank you for sharing your paper. It was mentioned that Landon learned to verbalize to his teachers that he stutters, with his teachers being aware of this what changes have the teachers made to help him?

    • Teachers now grade him on his content; not how he speaks when giving oral presentation. And of course, no timed oral reading assessments.

  5. It was very interesting to read your perspective as a parent. I was wondering what your experience was with teachers/SLPs/ and special educators in a general sense? Did you receive kindness/understanding?

    • The SLPs (one the co-author) were extremely accommodating and submitted the necessary documentation quickly so that it became a non-issue regarding his placement in the Honors English class; the SLP that took over his therapy in middle school was flexible with schedule and thorough in advising his teachers of the plan in place. Although she had no way of knowing because the paperwork had not transferred correctly, his middle school English teacher was dismayed when she learned and immediately rectified his oral presentation grades and stopped the oral assessment. Had it not been so close to the end of the school year, it would have been interesting to see more of the 6th grade teacher’s reaction. Landon is an excellent covert stutterer and perhaps classroom teachers who are not familiar with covert stuttering might need additional convincing that it exists in the student and that there is a need for accommodation.

  6. This was a great paper! I enjoyed reading about a personal experience from a parent. My question is how would you monitor the accommodations made for Landon? Also, I’m sure this depends on the child but, is it typical for accommodations to alter very much between transition periods? Thank you.

    • This is a great question and an ongoing problem. I educate my children who stutter and their parents to be watchful and self advocate. My students who stutter are given a little card (business card) that states: 1. ACCOMMODATION – Reading assessment and 2. Please see the building Speech-Language Pathologist.
      They can show the teacher this card is they need to. Transition periods are very problematic especially at the secondary level. The SLP needs to know when assessments are happening at each grade level but have parents and students involved is vitally important as the school SLP may not always be on site!

  7. I enjoyed that paper, thank you for sharing! I was drawn to the fact that Landon went through elementary school without any teachers realizing there was a concern. My question is do you think teachers should be more aware of covert stuttering? Do you think it would be beneficial for teachers to participate in a mandatory workshop to raise awareness and recognize covert stuttering? Thank you!

    • Landon everyone fooled, including his parents. The only evidence was his history of having difficulty on timed oral reading measures but with his ability to read well (silently) and his lexile being very advanced; no one was concerned until it became a benchmark for entering AP English in middle school. Yes, teachers could be more aware but I think this one would have been missed.

      • This is a great question and an ongoing problem. I educate my children who stutter and their parents to be watchful and self advocate. My students who stutter are given a little card (business card) that states: 1. ACCOMMODATION – Reading assessment and 2. Please see the building Speech-Language Pathologist.
        They can show the teacher this card is they need to. Transition periods are very problematic especially at the secondary level. The SLP needs to know when assessments are happening at each grade level but have parents and students involved is vitally important as the school SLP may not always be on site!

  8. Hi, I’m a speech therapist and co-author in this paper. I once worked with a fifth grade student who was a covert stutterer. He was a very bright triplet with stuttering history in the family. Interestingly, the father a severe stutterer himself, never reported to the school of the stuttering concern. The child was in a sub-separate class for Learning Disabled children. His teacher wondered why he always took a long time to answer question, and why he always put his finger on his forehead pretending to be thinking, while remaining silent for “very long” periods of time; often, giving up on responding, or yielding the speaking turn to others. When I discovered he was a covert stutterer, he was relieved to finally get the appropriate help. The teacher finally understood him and was able to help him feel comfortable and engaged in the class. The family was grateful and cooperative to get the best stuttering treatment going. The interesting thing is that this child had multiple speech evaluations throughout his life, but the stuttering was never mentioned in any of the reports, and thus treatment goals for stuttering were never written; implying that not even SLPs detected the covert stuttering in this child.

  9. Yes, indeed it was a very interesting post. I wondered what different types of assessments children in elementary schools and other levels of education need to go through. Originally, I am from Europe, Poland and never remembered having to go through other tests than regular quizzes, midterms and finals. I also experienced type of “cluttering”, as a young child. I would read very fast to finish as quickly as possible with my teacher often telling me to slow down. I never, though, was referred for any testing or recommended any therapy. The condition improved over time with me modifying the rate of my speech.
    Aren’t we too much into trying to find things?
    I understand the need to address problems and correct them but to what extend and to what stress level that the child may have to face?
    As a speech language pathologist in training, a former fast reader, and a person that speaks with an accent, I am trying to find and understanding a healthy balance in correcting areas that need to be corrected, allowing other part to be corrected itself through exposure and other areas to be accepted as a unique characteristic of a person.
    Izabela

  10. Reading aloud can be stressful for many children especially in front of peers or in testing situations. I bet reading aloud caused Landon a lot of added anxiety and not just when it was time for the DIBELS. What resources would you recommend to learn more about stuttering as it pertains to reading? Do you know anything about people who only have disfluencies while reading? This is of interest to me because I wonder if I had a reading disfluency as a child that went undetected until college where I self-referred to a reading specialist.

    • I agree that reading in class in front of classmates and a teacher can be stressful, so there can be an element of bias in assessing the child’s reading performance. Reading for the DIBELS may add to the stress additionally, so how do we bridge these biases and how do we give the children full credit for their performance? So, is a matter of disfluencies, a matter of being more or less capable of handling stress while performing, or is it a complex situation that may lead to false diagnosis if not factors taken into consideration?

  11. Thank you for this educational and inspiring post. Hearing Landon’s story is helpful for me as a Speech-Language Pathology student because it provides an intimate look at how students who stutter can have unnecessary struggle added into their lives because of policies, standardized tests, and lack of follow through from school administrations. Landon is clearly highly intelligent, yet was almost prevented from fully participating academically because of policy and practice barriers in his school. I am glad to see that ASHA is taking a hard look into this issue and addressing barriers as well as strategies to allow students who stutter to fully participate in school.

    -Marie Severson

  12. As a 5th grade teacher and a graduate student in communication science and disorders, I appreciate your perspective both as a parent and as an SLP. I love hearing about families taking an active role advocating for their children! There were many parts of your paper that resonated with me. From the pressure of standardized testing (DIBELS) to finding creative way to accommodate and modify curriculum for students with a 504 plan. Thank you for sharing you and your child’s experience!

  13. Wow, this is a wonderful post. I truly relate to this because of the struggles my younger brother faced when asked to read aloud in class or give a presentation. It baffles me to see that teachers in the school system are classifying a child who stutters with a “Learning Disability” or “Language Disorder” when truly these children can be exceptionally brilliant and have no language deficits. Do you think, in your opinion that we could do more in educating the school systems/paraprofessionals on stuttering and disfluencies so that they may understand this phenomenon and their students more in depth? Where do you think we should start?

    – Megan

    • Absolutely. Our district now has written guidelines that inform teachers to be aware. That stuttering is often under diagnosed and that a reading fluency measure may be invalid for some to include stuttering, English language learners, children with speech sound disorders, dsylexia, cluttering and anxiety disorder). The system needs to be flexible.

  14. Hi Kim and Lourdes, thank you for a very informational post! I had not considered before reading this how school assessments could be so challenging for individuals who stutter. One question that came to mind as I read through this article was how have you seen test accommodations be implemented in the schools? Is it the same test given but the student who stutters is allowed to have more time to take the test, takes it in a separate room from the rest of the students, etc. Or are they given a different test entirely? Thank you!

    • It depends on the student, the nature of the stuttering and the assessment. There are many modifications that can be used. They can be exempt from the oral reading fluency measure. Some children want to take the test and some of these simply do not stutter while reading but for those that do then the modification would be that the score wouldn’t be reported or used to move them to a lower reading group. One needs to realize also that if a child is using strategies learned in therapy to read outloud (fast) then their rate is going to be compromised. AND if they are thinking about not stuttering; their comprehension (retell) will likely be affected as well.

  15. Kim & Lourdes,

    I wanted to post and let you know that this post really opened my eyes to the challenges students who stutter encounter when only a standardized test is used to quantify oral reading fluency. As a future SLP and educator I will remember this post when considering administering standardized tests. In addition, if standardized tests are needed to make sure to include informal assessments of success in a variety of situations. Thank you for submitting this story of struggle, success and dedication.

  16. Hello Kim and Lourdes!

    Thank you for a post that was both filled with an excellent information and emotionally moving letter from a concerned family. I’m speech-language pathology graduate student and wanted to know more about how you implemented strategies in a school settings. I know how important advocating for all of our clients but I’m still developing my tools for advocating in different settings. Any advice you have for a future SLP would be great!

    Thanks,
    Liz

    • Many. One strategy I am using is simple business cards – they state: Accommodation on reading assessments Please see the building SLP. The student have these to give to the teacher if the accommodation or modification has fallen through the cracks. Now the teachers are asking for them as well as an easily accessible reminder. I include my students when writing their PLEP, their goals and their modifications – they are informed partners every step of the way. I council parents to advocate for their student and to check in often with teachers. Im sure there are many more great ideas out there.

      • I love the idea of business cards as a communication tool-I find that communication can be very difficult sometimes in school systems being so large. Thank you so much for all the ideas-I will definitely being including all your ideas in my resource notebook for stuttering.

  17. Hello there! I wonder if Landon is still receiving speech and language services? It is absolutely ridiculous that our school systems have gifted programs that could potentially prohibit students of a high caliber to be included or involved. Landon clearly had the skills necessary to be in the gifted program, however without his parents’ involvement he may not have made it through due to the strict guidelines regarding the oral DIBELS reading fluency test. As you mentioned early in the post, Landon began using avoidance techniques to reduce his stutter when communicating with others, however did he continue to do this throughout high school? Did he ever become more comfortable and familiar with his stutter that he could utilize a disclosure agreement to unfamiliar listeners? He had as much potential if not more than any other kid in a school system to be successful and great.

    • Thank you for your questions. I will allow Landon’t mother to reply to much of this as that is her place. Thanks to Landon, our school district now has written guidelines that inform teachers to be aware. That stuttering is often under diagnosed and that a reading fluency measure may be invalid for some to include stuttering, English language learners, children with speech sound disorders, dsylexia, cluttering and anxiety disorder). The system needs to be flexible.

    • Landon is currently in 9th grade. He was receiving services at the beginning of the school year, but was recently told to return for service if he feels he needs more help. Landon himself claims that the stutter has lessened – he says that he is using the techniques he learned at the middle school and that his ability to say the “wh/w” sound has improved – which greatly enhances his ability to ask questions. 🙂 At this moment, I am letting him take the lead, but am monitoring and mulling whether to ask that more consistent services be provided. I will always be a safety net and advocate for him; but, as parents, we also want to teach him to navigate, evaluate and advocate for himself. We will probably revisit additional evaluation and services in a month or so.

  18. This post really made me become aware of the struggles that PWS go through in an educational setting. I couldn’t imagine having to read aloud with the anxieties of stuttering on my mind as well. I think its great that the school was supportive of Landon’s stuttering and that they were so proactive about making a 504 plan and an IEP. The fact that Landon hid his stuttering and became a covert stutterer was quite disheartening. I feel that everyone should be able to express themselves without having anxieties/fears of trying to hide his/her stuttering. It made me smile that throughout time he became more comfortable with his stutter and now he can openly express that he has a stutter to his teachers. It is also great to hear about the amount of family involvement that was in this particular case. Again, thanks for sharing this post!

    –Kristin

  19. Hello Kim and Lourdes!
    Thank you for sharing about Landon. I didn’t know that covert stuttering was even a thing. I’m glad that you worked really hard to support your son’s education. I hope that more people will be inspired to work hard to support their children just like you did. Best of luck to the rest of Landon’s education!

  20. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I am curious as to what Landon’s feelings were regarding having an IEP and receiving speech services in the school. Did it bother him having an IEP? It sounds like he was using covert stuttering for much of his school years. Was he interested in speech therapy, since he had not received services beforehand? Thanks! ~Chelsea