Beginning school can be a daunting experience for any child as often it is that child’s first excursion outside of home without their parents. This experience is even more daunting for a child with a stutter and a child’s school years can be a particularly difficult time to deal with this speech disorder.
About stuttering – what is a stutter?
Stuttering is an interruption in the flow of speech. This can sometimes present as prolonged or repeated words or syllables. The person may get stuck completely and produce no sound at all coupled with visible signs of struggling to produce the word. Stuttering most commonly begins around the age of three. Its cause is not fully understood yet, however there is a genetic component meaning your odds of stuttering are greater if someone in your family also stutters.
Teased and bullied
School presents children who stutter with an array of challenges. Many experience social difficulties with more than half experiencing teasing or bullying on a regular basis. Children who stutter have also been shown to be rated as less popular amongst peers than other classmates. Unfortunately, teachers are sometimes not even aware of a child’s stuttering and may not even recognise that the child is anxious.
Some of them may fly under the radar, appearing shy and quiet.
Some children who stutter may avoid speaking in class or sit at the back of the classroom to avoid being noticed. They may be especially sensitive to evaluation by teachers or peers, and may answer “I don’t know” because they’re afraid of stuttering. They might learn to avoid difficult words or opportunities to speak, instead using gestures and short sentences to communicate, or they may allow other children to talk for them.
For these children, simple classroom tasks like reading aloud, presenting news, or asking the teacher a question can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment. Not surprisingly, it is common for teenagers and adults affected by stuttering to experience social anxiety about speaking, often to the point of having a diagnosable mental health problem.”
Impact on learning
Apart from the fact that children who stutter participate less in class, their ability to learn is then hindered further due to bullying. Bullying during school years is associated with anxiety later in life, which may already be starting to develop as anxiety problems that further hinder a child from learning to their full potential.
Putting your child at ease
One of the key factors to keep in mind is to ensure the child feels safe and comfortable in the classroom. This requires parents, the teacher, the school principal, and the child’s speech pathologist to work together to ensure a smooth transition into the classroom. This could mean informing the other children of a child’s stutter and its cause. However, this is not right for all children and this approach for some children, may make the situation worse.
Tips for teachers
The golden rule here is to sit down and find out how the child wants to be helped to deal with stuttering in the classroom.
Many children who stutter will be just fine, but for many others this will be a useful conversation. The other commonsense approach here is for the teacher to discuss with the child about talking aloud in the class. Obviously, it will not help overall if the teacher never asks a child who stutters to speak during class. But most children will be more comfortable with a number of alternatives to choose from, such as always being chosen to speak in some particular order from among classmates.
Finally, ensuring that the child received appropriate treatment for stuttering is essential. The support of parents, teachers, and treatment with an experienced speech pathologist is crucial in order to give children who stutter the opportunity to realise their potential.