Notes to the Teacher: The Child Who Stutters at School

The material in this brochure was updated
by Lisa Scott, Ph.D., The Florida State University.

Download a PDF of the brochure.

Teachers often report difficulty in knowing what to do about a child who stutters in the classroom.

For example...

  • Should he be expected to give oral reports, read out loud, or answer questions?
  • Should you talk to him about his speech or ignore it?
  • What should you do if other children tease her?
  • These are only a few of the questions often asked by teachers.

The pre-school and kindergarten child

All children in this age group are busily learning to talk. As such, they make speech mistakes. We call these "mistakes" disfluencies. Some children have more than others, and this is normal. There are certain children, however, who have many disfluencies--particularly repetition and prolongation of sounds. These are quite noticeable to listeners.

If you are concerned that there may be a problem of stuttering developing with one of these children, don't pay any special attention to the child at this point. Rather, talk to a speech pathologist for suggestions.

Also, talk to the parents about their opinion of the problem so that you know whether this is typical speech behavior for him. In most instances, if parents, teachers, and others listen to and answer the child in a patient, calm, and unemotional way, the child's speech returns to normal as his language abilities and his adjustments to school improve. If the child continues to have disfluencies, however, you may want to ask a speech pathologist to observe him.

The elementary school child

A major concern for most teachers is the child's reactions to his stuttering in the classroom. How should the child be expected to participate in class? The answer to this question depends on the individual child. At one extreme is the child who may be quite unconcerned and happy to participate like any other child; at the other extreme the child who will cry and refuse to talk. Most are somewhere in between. If the child is being seen by a speech pathologist, find out her opinion about reasonable expectations. Also, ask the child how he would like to participate. Sometimes participation requirements become part of the child's IEP.

Talk with the child: show your support

Usually it is advisable for you to talk with the child privately. Explain to him that when talking--just like when learning other skills--we sometimes make mistakes. We bobble sounds or repeat or get tangled up on words. With practice we improve. Explain that you are his teachers and that his stuttering is okay with you.

By talking to the child in this way, you help him learn that you are aware of his stuttering and that you accept it--and him.

Answering questions

  • As you are asking questions in the classroom, you can do certain things to make it easier for a child who stutters.
  • Initially, until he adjusts to the class, ask him questions that can be answered with relatively few words.
  • If every child is going to be asked a question, call on the child who stutters fairly early. Tension and worry can build up the longer he has to wait his turn.
  • Assure the whole class that (1) they will have as much time as they need to answer questions, and (2) you are interested in having them take time and think through their answers, not just answer quickly.

Reading aloud in class

Many children who stutter are able to handle oral reading tasks in the classroom satisfactorily, particularly if they are encouraged to practice at home. There will be some, however, who will stutter severely while reading aloud in class. The following suggestions may help these children.

Most children who stutter are fluent when reading in unison with someone else. Rather than not calling on the child who stutters, let him have his turn with one of the other children. Let the whole class read in pairs sometimes so that the child who stutters doesn't feel "special." Gradually he may become more confident and be able to manage reading out loud on his own.

Teasing

  • Teasing can be very painful for the student who stutters, and it should be eliminated as far as possible.
  • If the child has obviously been upset by teasing, talk with him or her one-on-one. Help the child to understand why others tease, and brainstorm ideas for how to respond.
  • If any certain children are picking on him, talk to them alone and explain that teasing is unacceptable.
  • Try to enlist their help. Most want the approval of the teachers.
  • If the problem persists, you may want to consult a guidance counselor or social worker if one is available in your building. They often have good suggestions for managing teasing.

Speech therapy

If you are unsure whether a speech pathologist is available in your school, talk with your building administrator. Also, suggest to the parents that they seek one out who specializes in stuttering and who has a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The Stuttering Foundation of America offers free referrals at www.stutteringhelp.org or call toll-free 1-800-992-9392.

We have listed a few general points here. Always keep in mind that each child is different, and your caring positive attitude will make a big difference.

Tips for Talking with the Child who Stutters...

  • Don't tell the child to slow down or "relax."
  • Don't complete words for the child or talk for him or her.
  • Help all members of the class learn to take turns talking and listening. All children -- especially those who stutter -- find it much easier to talk when there are few interruptions and they have the listener's attention.
  • Expect the same quality and quantity of work from the student who stutters as the one who doesn't.
  • Speak with the student in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. 
  • Convey that you are listening to the content of the message, not how it was said. 
  • Have a one-on-one conversation with the student who stutters about needed accommodations in the classroom. Respect the student's needs but do not be enabling. 
  • Don't make stuttering something to be ashamed of. Talk about stuttering just like any other matter.