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By Kristin A. Chmela, M.A., CCC-SLP
Question: I have a 9-year-old child who has been stuttering since age 2. He has an IEP and sees a speech pathologist between 1 and 2 times per week. He has expressed his anxiety to me about his stuttering and asked if I could help him. What do I do?
Answer: Hi and thanks for the great question. It sounds like you are helping him already, by having him enrolled in speech therapy at school. Here are some other general suggestions for how you might be able to help him:
1. Ask the school-speech pathologist if you could participate in some of his therapy sessions. This way, you can learn the skills he is learning and find out the best ways to work with him in the home environment.
2. Ask your son what he wants you and others to do when he is having trouble speaking. Let him know that you have time to listen. Create a time each day to have a 5-10 minute conversation. Always talk face-to-face. Practice having him "watch your face" when he talks, even if he is stuttering. Good eye contact displays confidence.
3. Learn more about stuttering. The Stuttering Foundation of America website (www.stutteringhelp.org) has general information about stuttering. Their DVD, Stuttering: Straight Talk for Teachers provides helpful information about stuttering. The Web site www.stutteringhomepage.com has an information section for parents. Support organizations such as Friends (www.friendswhostutter.org) and the National Stuttering Association (www.westutter.org) provide an opportunity to meet other parents of school-age children who stutter.
4. You can speak with the school therapist, who may offer assistance with your son's anxiety related to stuttering. Helpful clinical resources include the Cognitive Behavior Therapy DVD as well as David Luterman's DVD on counseling. You, as the parent, may also benefit from these DVD's. One helpful exercise is called the "Worry Ladder," which comes from a workbook addressing school-age children's attitudes and feelings about stuttering. You and your son can talk about what he "worries" about from the smallest worry to the biggest. Sometimes having a way to talk about anxieties can help reassure the child. If he has a particular concerns, such as anwering questions aloud in class, you can help him by practicing with relevant school material at home. He can also go to school a few minutes early and practice with the teacher by himself until he gets more comfortable talking in front of the entire class. The social worker or psychologist at your son's school may also provide support for the clinician working with your son. Anxiety related to stuttering can be very normal.
Editor's Note - You may want to share these resources by Dean E. Williams, Ph.D., with your child's school speech-language pathologist: Working With Children in the School Environment and Talking with Children Who Stutter.
Most importantly, let your son know what he says is always the most important thing. Best of luck!
This question was answered by Kristin A. Chmela, M.A., CCC-SLP of Northwestern University. She is a board recognized specialist in fluency disorders. She has authored and developed many resources on stuttering, including Working with Preschoolers Who Stutter: Successful Intervention Strategies, Dealing Effectively with Attitudes and Emotions and The School-Age Child Who Stutters: Working Effectively with Attitudes and Emotions: A Workbook.