Stuttering is one of the most common speech and language disorders in children with seen one in 10 being diagnosed as a stutterer. This is a fluency disorder with symptoms like repeating sounds, adding extra sounds, elongating words, jerky movements involving head and body, blinking several times, and visible frustration.
Some of the common difficulties faced by children with stuttering include the inability to effectively communicate with classmates and teachers, anxiety over oral presentations, inability to participate proactively in classroom discussions and to have a strong peer group. In addition, children also miss out on participating in cultural and social gatherings. In some cases, they are also victims of bullying. The attitude of teachers and insensitive handling of the problems are some of the other issues. Currently, with online teaching becoming the norm, children who stutter are facing new challenges. With verbal responses being expected, there is increased anxiety and fear of failure and a feeling of being exposed in a virtual class. Children tend to avoid verbal participating by citing Wi-Fi issues and switching off the camera. Also, the time to respond is just three to seven seconds, which is not enough for these children. Another aspect is an interruption from a classmate and the lack of control for teachers to enforce the accommodative techniques required.
For effective management of children diagnosed with stuttering, speech therapists work with both teachers and parents in helping them implement an effective goal-oriented programme based on the detailed assessment using standardised testing tools. This involves helping the child implement fluency shaping exercises and strategies tailor-made to the child’s requirements. Though there is no easy solution because of individual variations, teachers can help significantly in improving a child’s fluency.
What can teachers do?
Be empowered: Learn about stuttering from a qualified speech therapist and avoid misconceptions and myths.
Be a good speech model: Reduce the rate of speech to give the child enough time to organise words in grammatical order and vocabulary. Use pauses where appropriate in long sentences. Use simple vocabulary and grammar. Occasionally use normal non-fluencies like ‘umm’, ‘ahh’, repeat whole words or pause.
Use techniques to improve the child’s self-esteem: Get to know the child better with individual meetings. Create a positive environment and be a good and patient listener. To do this, do not instruct on how to be fluent or complete words when the child is talking. Emphasis should be on content rather than the manner of speech. Ensuring equal participation in oral activities and help them in private before their presentation. Address their fears and concerns. Don’t reduce expectations but provide accommodation for successful outcomes like asking simple yes/no questions, single-word answers and gradually increase complexity of replies. Encourage their creativity and highlight special talents. Create a good buddy system in class by identifying children who are able to provide empathy and positive thinking. Educate the class about disfluency and the challenges and how they can provide a good support system to help him/her overcome problems. Accept non fluency.
Create a good speech environment: Establish good conversational rules such as no one interrupts when a child is talking and ensure they get adequate time to formulate words and plan utterances. Have a positive body language, be relaxed and maintain eye contact. Listen attentively and do not react inappropriately. Avoid other activities while talking. Discuss upcoming events and reduce fears associated with change in daily schedule.
Stuttering can be treated effectively with physical and tele (video) sessions, irrespective of the child’s age, severity of stuttering and associated behaviours. With early interventions, the outcomes are encouraging and many children have been helped to be a part of their peer group.
If more people are aware of a child’s stuttering, the better they will be able to support him/her in the classroom and other settings. This makes children comfortable and use speaking techniques that enhance fluency and help them communicate effectively.
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Hindu. The original article can be found at https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-teachers-can-help-children-with-stuttering-communicate-fluently/article34839620.ece)