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General strategies for teachers

Talking is putting thoughts into words: it clarifies thinking that later may be expressed in writing, and can also motivate and stimulate ideas.

The curriculum therefore places considerable emphasis on the skills of talking and listening in the classroom. Teachers are aware that many children including children who stammer may need support to develop these skills (see Talking for Scotland).

When a child stammers

  • Aim to build self-esteem so the child manages his speaking with confidence, even when stammering severely.
  • Ensure that the other pupils are supportive in their talking, listening and behaviour.
  • Give time to finish, and do not interrupt or finish off words.
  • Listen attentively, and echo back some content so that the child feels that what he said is more important than how he said it.
  • Maintain normal eye contact and do not signal impatience. For example, avoid frequently nodding; looking at a watch or surreptitiously getting on with another task while the child is speaking.
  • Slow your own speech with natural pauses, demonstrating that there is no need to rush.
  • Talk regularly with the child to discuss what helps him.

Monitor for underachievement

Children who stammer have the same range of abilities and personality traits as children who do not. It is easy to underestimate the ability of a child who stammers as he may not always be able to express his thoughts and ideas. Teachers should TRACK achievement in relationship to the potential of the child, using whatever cognitive tests are favoured in their school.

Remember that just because a child does not appear able to talk, it does not mean that he does not understand

What Teachers Notice

When a child stammers teachers have observed:

Overt behaviours by the child

  • Appearing worried and anxious to rush away.
  • Blocking on a word or a sound, and trying to force it out.
  • Changing words to an easier one.
  • Clenching hands, tensing facial muscles.
  • Coughing.
  • Giving abrupt answers
  • Getting out of breath.
  • Losing eye contact
  • Moving head
  • Prolonging sounds
  • Pronouncing words differently
  • Putting hands over or around the mouth.
  • Repeating words and sounds
  • Seeming tense and anxious
  • Speaking in a funny voice, such as a baby voice
  • Speaking more quietly, or sometimes more loudly
  • Talking when they feel able to speak so that they may interrupt or call out in class and seem to be rude.
  • Using a filler word such as, 'like', 'and',' y'know', 'sort of', to act as a run in to the speaking.

Covert behaviours

  • Avoiding talking and getting out of situations, where talking is expected
  • Behaving in ways that may cover up the stammer: being quiet and hardworking, being difficult, and even trying to dominate other children.
  • Compromising on what they would like to do or say and seeing situations as an exposure of their stammering.
  • Judging opportunities solely in terms of their stammer: for example school trips, visits to friends' houses, and then deciding to avoid them.
  • Planning ahead in their talking so that they are continually worrying about choice of words.
  • Talking so quietly that you cannot hear what is said
  • Worrying about friendships, simple social demands such as buying sweets, paying bus fares, telephoning, and feeling generally worried about what is coming next.

Teasing and Bullying

Children who stammer do worry about this and parents are understandably concerned. All schools follow policies to prevent this and parents and children are encouraged to report any concerns as soon as possible. Every child needs to feel able to safely approach the teacher with a problem.

However, children who stammer may have problems talking to their teacher about such an emotional issue and could be helped by strategies which allow them to give information in writing, to be placed in a 'bully box' or similar. See Bullying in this resource.

The key to preventing bullying is effective personal and social education that emphasises the diversity of the human family, and activities in PSD/PSE or Circle Time, for instance, can be ideal.

In some schools, children who feel different in some way are encouraged to give a short talk to the class to create some empathy with their feelings. If a child who stammers has the confidence to do this with support,  that can be helpful. It is advisable for the teacher to consult with the parent and therapist before considering an approach to the child.

The adult who stammers

By adulthood, 75% of communication is non-verbal and over time stammering may have interfered with the development of communication skills such as the appropriate use of eye contact and facial expression, listening and turn-taking. Consequently, it is very important that the child who stammers is encouraged in school to develop these skills and the therapist may involve the teacher with his social skills development.

There is some research evidence that adults who stammer believe that their speech has had a negative effect on their employment opportunities and job performance.

A survey of BSA members reinforces this view. However, with more support in schools for children who stammer it is hoped that this trend may be reversed and they can achieve their potential to the same degree as every other pupil.

The teacher should talk regularly with the child who stammers to find out what helps him