Advocating for Children Who Stutter in the Classroom

I am a first year graduate student studying speech-language pathology. I am currently enrolled in a stuttering course, and have been learning so much. One of the big things we talked about in class is advocating for people who stutter. I have an interest in working in the schools, and I was wondering what advice professionals or people who stutter have on advocating for children who stutter in the classroom. What advice do you have for a school speech-language pathologist who is working with a student who stutters, as well as with that student’s teachers and peers? In what ways can you advocate for a student who stutters, or encourage a student who stutters to advocate for themselves in the school setting? Do you have any advice on how you can you help a student to be successful socially, emotionally, and academically? Thank you for your time!

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Advocating for Children Who Stutter in the Classroom — 2 Comments

  1. Kathleen,
    First, let me put a caveat on my answer. I do not work with school-age children, but since I did not see that anyone had answered the question I thought that I would at least point you in the right direction.
    First, contact the National Stuttering Association, American Institute for Stuttering, and Stuttering Foundation of America to get their pamphlets on the classroom experience of children who stutter.
    Then volunteer to do a presentation on “Advocation for Children Who Stutter in the Classroom”. The best way to learn is to teach.
    Some points to remember:
    1. Each of us who stutters is different, so you need to learn their beliefs and feelings about stuttering.
    2. Remember that children do not want to be different; they want to fit in as much as they can. If there is special treatment it should be as innocuous as possible.
    3. Be aware of Karen Horney’s “The tyranny of the shoulds”. We all have an idealized self (where we don’t stutter) and an actual self (the self where we do, at least, intermittently stutter). I hear from adults that “they can’t be their real self.” What that means is that they wish, no DEMAND that their REAL SELF SHOULD BE THEIR IDEALIZED SELF. They are constantly frustrated to tears, to distraction, that their real self is their actual self. With adults, I have been able to disabuse them of this idea, but I do not know if I would have any success with children in teaching them to acknowledge that they might have to toughen themselves to not be devastated by their dysfluencies.
    If you need any help in writing the paper, let me know. We should be able to come up with a strategy.
    I hope you are dedicated enough to follow through.

  2. Hi, Kathleen,

    Gunars gave some good resources on working with children in classroom settings. I’d like to add a few comments. First, it is essential to find out what the child wants in terms of peers and teachers. What do they want others to know about stuttering? What bugs them the most about how others respond to them when they stutter? As Gunars pointed out, it is so important to be sure that what you do to help the child doesn’t make them feel awkward or different. The child must be ready for whatever is to be shared with others, and participate in the process as much as they wish.

    Second, beginning in the earliest grades in school, I work with children to help them become advocates for themselves. This can be tricky for children who stutter. While I may speak with teachers early on, once I know what the child wants the teacher to do/not, we talk about what they would like for me to tell the teacher, what types of ways the teacher can help the child, etc. When the child is ready, I assist them in planing and practicing how they want to advocate for themselves in specific situations. For example, if a child has a teacher who interrupts them when they are answering a question and stuttering, helping them develop and then practice appropriate responses to hold their talking turn goes a long way toward self-advocacy. The child might decide that they want to say, “Excuse me, Mr. X, I’d like to finish talking”, or, “I’m not quite finished”. Or, if the child wants to do their book report in front of just the teacher for the first book, in front of a smaller group of children for the second, and so forth, we plan how to ask the teacher, supporting them as appropriate.

    All communicators will need to speak up for themselves on occasion when someone else breaks a conversation rule, and it can be a critical skill for people who stutter. Starting early to help children make their voice heard leads to a child who will be a strong communicator, whether or not they stutter.


    Lynne Shields