Through feedback and experience, we have collated a list of resources for educators to help support students who stammer.
Stammering is common in children. For some, it will pass as they grow up. However, for others, it persists and is something that can affect their participation in classrooms as well as their overall experience in the education system. For children who stammer in school, it can be a very frustrating experience for them.
Students who stammer are often very creative and thoughtful. Sometimes their thoughts can be so quick that they struggle to articulate them.
For educators, it is important to be able to allow students who are affected by a stammer in school to flourish and, where possible, to amend their teaching methods to more appropriately support them.
The following top tips would be useful to support a child who stammers in the classroom environment:
- Listen to what the person is saying, not how they say it.
- Do not draw attention to their stammer in school.
- Give the person time to respond, avoid trying to finish their sentence for them.
- Avoid interrupting the person when they are speaking.
- Use a calm and slow rate of speech when speaking to the person, especially if the student is younger.
- Create an environment where they feel safe if/when they stammer.
- Keep giving the person eye contact, even if they look away when they are stammering.
- If the child has difficulty with things in the daily routine, such as noting their presence at registration, discuss other ways they would do this such as putting their hand up
- If there is an expectation that they have to answer a question or read aloud try to choose them early on to try and reduce anxiety building up while they are waiting their turn
How to talk to a child or young person about their stammer in school:
- The strategies above are useful for children of all ages who stammer in school.
- Not all children are aware that what they are doing is called stammering, but if they bring up having difficulty with their speech use the language that they use, e.g. if they say they get ‘stuck’ you can say “it’s okay to get stuck sometimes”
- If the child is aware of their stammer ask them what they feel will help them in the class.
- Ask them if they are happy to talk in all situations or is there anything they can do to make it easier
- Use positive language when talking about their stammer, so instead of referring to them having a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ stammer or the stammer being ‘better’ or ‘worse’, use terms like stammering more or stammering less
- Use positive language to highlight other aspects of the child’s communication, e.g. “you are talking more confidently”, “you are answering more in class”, “I like how you answered that question, you really thought about it”
- You can also discuss ways for them to let you know discreetly if they do not want to speak out if they are feeling anxious, but also support them to participate in activities. Some teachers have used these ideas:
- Having an agreed object on the desk means that the child does not want to speak out, this can be something like a pencil case or other agreed object.
- Discuss how they can respond to the register without the need to speak out, such as putting up their hand/clapping
- For occasions when they need to answer out, let the child know beforehand when you are going to ask them, such as letting them know that they will be asked after a certain person has a turn. This can give them time to prepare. It is also useful to ask the child with a stammer to answer near the start so that they are not waiting too long for their turn
Supporting children with reading aloud
- Offer the opportunity to do choral reading, when two or more people read out at the same time. This can help increase their fluency and you can offer this to the whole class so that the child who stammers is not singled out
- Don’t let them wait a long time for their turn to read aloud as this can increase anxiety
- Some children want to sit at the front of the class when reading so that they don’t see the reactions of their peers whereas others like to sit at the back so that they can see and respond to the children reactions. Talk to the individual about what helps them and would make them feel more comfortable.
- If a child has lost their confidence it may help to read in small groups or individually with an adult as this can help rebuild it
- Don’t confuse reading fluency and speech fluency as they may be hesitant if they are not a good reader or it may be because if their stammer. Likewise, they may be a confident, fluent reader but they have a stammer
Supporting children with presentations
- May be helpful to do the presentation with another person
- Offer the choice of presenting to a teacher or smaller group
- Be aware that they may need longer and reassure them that they will have extra time if needed so that they don’t feel extra pressure
- It can help to work with the child and have a practice with ways that they can get through the words more smoothly
- Also, it can be helpful to accept a presentation that they have videoed themselves doing at home
- Be aware of your school’s policy on bullying
- Stammering can be included in general conversations in acceptance around difference
- Be aware of your own remarks around a child’s communication
‘When Your Child is Bullied: An Essential Guide for Parents’ by Jenny Alexander
‘Bullies, Bigmouths and So-Called Friends’ by Jenny Alexander
‘Seven Day Bully Buster’ by Jenny Alexander
For further information please see the links in the Resources section of our website. You can also contact your local Speech and Language Therapy Helpline.