Blog by Courtney Byrd, PhD, CCC-SLP
Sept. 30, 2020

As some schools and school districts make plans to continue distance learning in full or as part of a hybrid learning approach, the Stuttering Foundation provides guidance and help. Following is a list of tips from Courtney Byrd, PhD, CCC-SLP, for teachers, school-based SLPs and clinicians working with children who stutter:

The environments in which we communicate on a daily basis have changed drastically worldwide given the global pandemic, but there are still many ways to facilitate successful communication. Here is a top ten list of suggestions for teachers and clinicians that they can use to help children who stutter navigate the challenges unique to communicating effectively and meaningfully during this time of social distancing.

10) Explain to students that eye contact is still key to communication, but that it will be different as they will be looking more at the center of the screen as opposed to directly into the eyes of the person or persons they are talking to and this takes practice to master.

9) Remind students to smile at least a little when they are talking – emphasize that no matter the distance, if the student is frowning while talking, they will look like they do not want to participate in that exchange and the person(s) they are communicating with will not want to participate either. 

8) Tell students to stay “inside the box” – instruct them that if they cannot see themselves on the screen, no else can see them either.

7) Train your students to speak a little louder than usual to ensure that they can be heard via a video platform, while being sure to also remind them to shift their voice volume back to what is a typical level of loudness when they are talking to someone in person.

6) Help your students to practice self-kindness; prepare and support them through the challenge of seeing themselves, and, even their stuttering, on the screen as they are talking as they will likely make self-observations and encounter feelings that they have never experienced before.  

5) Encourage your students to share that they are a person who stutters – instruct them to disclose prior to speaking with new people, prior to presentations for class, prior to interviews, etc., and to notice how that disclosure reduces listener assumptions and, increases their own ease with the exchange.  

4) Beware of zoom fatigue – provide students (and yourself) with breaks from talking and from showing their faces on the screen during exchanges whenever it is appropriate to do so.

3) Keep in mind that distance does not preclude learning or the fun your students can have along the way. Specific to communication, your students can still role play and authentically engage in all formats, including interviews, presentations, reading aloud, debates, etc. And you can keep them engaged by taking time do to silly interactive things unique to the virtual platform, like sharing the screen to write messages and draw pictures, changing virtual backgrounds/faces, hiding from one another and anything interactive that provides a momentary release and makes the exchange valuable and enjoyable. 

2) Accept that there will be technological interruptions - frozen screens, dropped calls, frequent stops and starts are all to be expected and you and your students need to have patience with yourselves and with each other as you are navigating these distinct challenges. 

1) Do not let the social isolation isolate your students from socializing. Urge them to use the present circumstances to reach out to friends and family members they have never had the chance to talk to regularly before – have them share about these opportunities in class as a reminder to all that just because the connection is virtual, it is not any less meaningful.

Courtney Byrd, PhD, CCC-SLP, is Vice President of Continuing Education for The Stuttering Foundation, Founding Director of the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, Principal Investigator of the Dr. Jennifer and Emanuel Bodner Developmental Stuttering Lab, and Professor, Associate Chair and Graduate Adviser Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at The University of Texas at Austin.