Helping children with a stammer

Posted by iChild, October 23, 2019 1:42 PM

By Sue Cottrell, author of Can I tell you about Stammering?

Most of us will have felt nervous when asked to speak in front of others. We might worry about forgetting what we want to say, be anxious about getting our words muddled up or feel uncomfortable about being the focus of attention with all eyes upon us. Now imagine how you would feel if you also had to worry about whether the words would come out at all.

My name is Harry

According to figures from the British Stammering Association, approximately six to eight per cent of children go through a phase of stammering or stuttering. Fortunately, most grow out of this, leaving up to three per cent of adults with a stammer or stutter. These figures mean there is likely to be at least one stammerer in every school, most likely a boy. As teachers, we know that speaking is crucially important to learning. So how can we help stammerers to ensure that their learning is not disadvantaged?

Understanding how stammerers feel will go some way to help. Can I tell you about Stammering? describes stammering from the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy, Harry, who tells us how his stammer affects his daily life. Harry also explains how other people, such as teachers, parents and friends, can support him.

Take time
Schools are busy and often stressful places, but the stammerer needs to know there is no need to rush. Slow down your own speech. Give him time to think. Give him time to speak. Resist the temptation to interrupt and never try to ‘help’ by finishing off his sentences.

Listen with your eyes
Show the stammerer you are interested in what he is saying by maintaining eye contact. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, too bad! Refrain from glancing at your watch or looking awkwardly at the floor. Never pretend that you hadn’t noticed the stammerer speaking or start a new conversation with someone else before the stammerer has finished.

Plan ahead
Find out how the stammerer would prefer to deal with school routines such as taking the register, reading aloud, etc.  Strategies such as speaking first or reading in pairs may reduce anxiety and build confidence to try speaking in different situations. Fast verbal response games are no fun for a stammerer, so plan ahead to ensure inclusion.

Have a go
Give the stammerer opportunities to practise speaking, and encourage him to have a go. He may enjoy singing or exploring different voices as part of dramatic story telling. Many stammerers struggle to say their own name, but it is important for them to speak for themselves.

Get creative
Explore different ways of gathering information about the stammerer’s knowledge and understanding. While it is important to encourage the stammerer not to avoid speaking, assessment for learning tools such as mini-whiteboards, flashcards and traffic lights can help everyone to participate.

Avoid labels
Help the stammerer to feel good about himself by building his self-esteem. He has strengths and weaknesses like everyone else, and his stammer is just one part of him. Don’t assume he is less intelligent. The stammerer may pretend not to know an answer rather than struggle to say it, or may try to hide his stammer by deliberately giving the wrong answer if this is easier for him to say.

Keep positive
Like the rest of us, stammerers have good and bad days. A stammer may be exacerbated by tiredness, a head cold, feeling under pressure, etc. Similarly, challenges or conflicts at home may have a negative impact on speech. Keep calm and explore creative and physical ways of expressing frustrations and relieving stress. There is no cure for a stammer, but many learn ways to accept and control their speech, and lead happy and successful lives.

The date of 22nd October has been designated International Stammering Awareness Day since 1998. Why not use a school assembly to tackle some of the myths surrounding stammering, raise awareness of the condition, and explain ways to support people who stammer? Or take a look at Harry’s story and discuss the challenges he faces every day. A quick web search will reveal numerous famous people with stammers, from all walks of life, from rappers to royals. All have displayed overwhelming bravery, courage and determination to achieve success, and are an inspiration to us all – whether we stammer or not.

About the Author
Sue Cottrell worked as a teacher before becoming an education consultant for schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government. Her personal interest in stammering stems from her son, Lloyd, who has stammered since the age of six. Now 21, Lloyd is a member of the McGuire Programme, a speech recovery programme run by stammerers for stammerers. He is well on his journey of learning to control his stammer, and has made videos and given press and radio interviews about his stammer to encourage awareness.

Interesting links:

Can I tell you about Stammering?

Link to Fixers video, My Life with a Stammer:

Link to Radio 4’s The Listening Project

Jessica Kingsley Publishers (books that make a difference)
See their website for a whole series on 'Can I tell you about'.



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