Jack usually sat quietly in class. He’d rarely put up his hand, although his teacher noticed that he did well in written tests. He had a small group of friends but was often teased by other children.
In the classroom, children are expected to share ideas, present their work to the class and ask and answer questions. The NZ curriculum identifies the value of communication in its vision for children to be “able to relate well to each other” and to be “effective users of communication tools.”
For children who stutter, sharing ideas and contributing to a group, can be a huge challenge. Once children start school they face an increased risk they may be teased or bullied because they stutter. Preschool children are fairly tolerant of difference; school age children less so. It is important that teachers are aware of the increased risk of teasing and bullying at this age and that it is discussed openly with the child and their parents.
Teaching children that stutter
Teachers are skilled in working with children with many different needs; however they may not have worked with a child who stutters before. Teachers need to:
- have knowledge of what stuttering is and how to help
- be supportive and encouraging of the child who stutters
- foster a classroom environment where all children are listened to when talking, and no teasing or bullying of others is permitted
Ideas for teachers to support a child who stutters in the classroom:
There are non-verbal methods that still achieve the goal of establishing who is present. You can try a ‘hands up’ alternative – practicing eye contact at the same time – or use a written list that the students check as they enter class.
Children who stutter often find it easier to read in unison, rather than individually. If the whole class is asked to read in pairs, this avoids singling out the child who stutters.
Ensure the child who stutters is included in a group of supportive peers. Giving guidelines for good turn taking may promote equal involvement.
It is likely to be easier for children who stutter to answer a short answer question than give a long reply. If the whole class is taking turns to speak, many people who stutter may prefer to speak first, as this limits the time in which anxiety and tension can build up.
Practice is important for presentations, and alternatives such as presenting to a small group (rather than the full class) could be considered for a student who stutters. Consider adapting activities so that the task goal is still achieved, but the method in which it is executed is varied to suit an individual’s needs. Placing emphasis on the content of talks, rather than the absence of stuttering, can be a reassuring message for students who stutter.
More information about stuttering for teachers
If a teacher wants further general information about stuttering, they are able to talk to a Speech Language Therapist (SLT). If the child who stutters, and their parents, is comfortable, it can be helpful for the SLT to talk with the teacher about the child's specific situation. This helps the teacher to be aware of what the child might find helpful. The child is likely to be reassured by being able to discuss stuttering with their teacher.
Please contact one of START’s specialist SLTs for more specific advice about children you may have in your class who stutter or any other queries you may have about working with children who stutter.
Teachers are an important influence in the lives of young people – and particularly so for students who stutter.