What should I do when a child stutters in my class?

The most important thing to do when a child is stuttering is be a good communicator yourself.

  • Keep eye contact and give the child enough time to finish speaking.
  • Try not to fill in words or sentences.
  • Let the child know by your manner and actions that you are listening to what she says'not how she says it.
  • Model wait time ' taking two seconds before you answer a child's question ' and insert more pauses into your own speech to help reduce speech pressure.

These suggestions will benefit all of the children in your class.

Do not make remarks like "slow down," "take a deep breath," "relax," or "think about what you're going to say, then say it." We often say these things to children because slowing down, relaxing, or thinking about what we are going to say helps us when we feel like we're having a problem tripping over our words. Stuttering, though, is a different kind of speaking problem and this kind of advice is simply not helpful to the child who stutters.

Should I remind the child to use his stuttering therapy techniques in class?

Unless the child or a SLP specifically asks you to help remind the child, it may be best not to.

In therapy, children who stutter learn several different techniques, sometimes called speech tools, to manage their stuttering. However, learning to use these speech tools in different situations (e.g., the classroom vs. the therapy room) takes considerable time and practice. Many young children who stutter do not have the maturity to monitor their speech in all situations. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect the child to use her tools in your classroom.

What should I do when the child is having a difficult speaking day?

It's always best to check with the child about what he would like you to do on days when talking is more difficult.

Children who stutter vary greatly in how they want their teachers and peers to respond when they are having an especially difficult time talking. One child may prefer that his teacher treat him in the same way as she would any other day, by spontaneously calling on him or asking him to read aloud.

On the other hand, another child may want his teacher to temporarily reduce her expectations for his verbal participation, by calling on him only if his hand is raised or allowing him to take a pass during activities such as round-robin reading.

What should I do when the child who stutters interrupts another child?

Handle interruptions the same way that you would for a child who doesn't stutter. Children who stutter sometimes interrupt others because it's easier to get speech going while others are talking. We're not sure exactly why it's easier to talk over others, but it may be because less attention is called to the child at the beginning of her turn when stuttering is most likely to occur.

Even though it may be easier to get her speech going by interrupting a peer, it's important for the child who stutters to learn the rules for good communication just like all the other children in your class.

How can I make oral reports easier for the stuttering child?

There are many things you can do to help make oral reports a positive experience for the child who stutters. Together, you and the child can develop a plan, considering factors such as:

  • Order ' whether he wants to be one of the first to present, in the middle, or one of the last to present;
  • Practice opportunities ' ways he can practice that will help him feel more comfortable, such as at home, with you, with a friend, or at a speech therapy session;
  • Audience size ' whether to give the oral report in private, in a small group, or in front of the entire class; and
  • Other issues ' whether he should be timed, or whether grading criteria should be modified because of his stuttering.

Should I talk to the entire class about stuttering?

It depends on the child in question. Some children won't mind if you talk to his or her peers about stuttering. Others, however, will feel that stuttering is a private matter and should not be discussed openly with the other children in class.

Sometimes, a child who stutters will make a classroom presentation about stuttering. This presentation allows the child to teach her peers facts about stuttering, names of famous people who stutter, offer suggestions about how she would like her peers to react when she is stuttering, and even teach the others different ways to stutter.

One of the benefits we've observed from having a child who stutters make a classroom presentation about stuttering is a reduction in teasing. If other children understand more about the problem, they are less likely to ridicule or tease the child who stutters.

This is not an appropriate activity for all children who stutter, as some may not be ready yet to deal with stuttering in such an open way. Giving a presentation about stuttering is one component of stuttering therapy, typically done in conjunction with a classroom visit by the SLP. If you have questions about whether the child in your class is ready to give such a presentation, consult the SLP.

If a child in your class is going to make a presentation about stuttering, we offer a Classroom Presentation Packet (#0130) with brochures, information, and posters you and the child can use.

How should I handle teasing?

Deal with teasing as you would with any other child who is being teased. Teasing is an experience common to many children, not just those who stutter.

As mentioned earlier, classroom presentations can be a powerful way to reduce teasing if the child who stutters is ready to make such a presentation. At other times, teasing will be stopped only with your intervention. Many school districts now have written policies for handling teasing in the classroom, and school counselors or social workers are excellent sources of information. A list of additional resources for teasing can be found at the end of this handbook; there are listings for teachers, children, and parents.

What types of things can I say to encourage the child who stutters to talk in my class?

The best way to encourage a child who stutters to talk in your class is to let him know through your words and actions that what he says is important, not the way he says it. Other ways you can encourage the child:

  • Praise him for sharing his ideas;
  • Tell him that stuttering does not bother you;
  • Give him opportunities to talk, such as calling on him to give an answer or asking him for his opinion; and,
  • Let him know it's ok to stutter.

You may have other general questions about stuttering, the child who stutters in your class, or what to say to parents of children who stutter. We encourage you to contact the SLP in your building. If you don't have a SLP in your building or access to one through your school system, contact us for more information.

Adapted from Stuttering: Straight Talk for Teachers by L. Scott, C. Guitar, K. Chmela, and W. Murphy