|About the presenter: Shinji Ito established the first self-help group of persons who stutter in Japan in 1965. As well as serving as the Executive Director of the Japan Stuttering Project he does private practice and teaches speech therapy at several universities and vocational schools. In 1986 he served as the Chairperson of the first International Conference on Stuttering in Kyoto. Later on he was involved with the founding of the ISA as a member of the Board of Directors. He has also been organizing summer camps for children who stutter and their parents for 17 years. He has published eleven books on stuttering.|
I sometimes encounter school teachers with more than ten years of teaching experience, who say, "I've never met a child who stutters." Considering the fact that the incidence of stuttering is about 1% in any population, it is quite likely that they have met children who stutter but failed to recognize their stuttering.
There are speech therapy classes in the public school system in Japan, but these special classes can take care of only a small number of children who stutter. Some children who stutter do not even know about such classes and are struggling since they are not provided with adequate support from their regular classroom teachers. This article discusses how the parents of children who stutter and teachers of regular classes can provide support for such children.
Failure to notice stuttering
There are two reasons why the child's stutter is often unnoticed.
Stuttering is not caught unless the person speaks. If children have a strong negative feelings about stuttering, they will try to hide their stuttering by any means. As a result, their stuttering will remain unnoticed and people will simply regard them as quiet and inactive. However, stuttering may be a big issue for the child, but since the child does not create any problems for his or her classmates, the child will often be neglected in class. It often happens that people do not notice that the child has been affected by stuttering until the child becomes a victim of bullying or refuses to go to school because of stuttering.
People generally think that stuttering is a repetition of a particular sound like "b-b-b-b-boy." Or if a person cannot utter any sound because it is blocked in the throat, people do not think this is a stutter. Furthermore it makes it harder to recognize stuttering since the situation in which people stutter differs depending on the person. Most people think they stutter when they feel nervous. Therefore, if a child who stutters is good at recitation or public speaking, people never imagine that the child is suffering from stuttering. Some children who stutter, stutter more when they are with their families or playing with their friends. Their teachers are often not aware that the child is teased about his or her stuttering and imitated while they are playing together.
Some parents consult teachers when they find their children in trouble because of stuttering. The teachers might say, "Your child stutters but not as seriously as you might think." People do not understand why it is a problem if the child does not stutter severely. However, the level of being affected by stuttering is not proportional to the severity of overt stuttering symptoms. In fact, children who stutter less and hide their stutter are sometimes more fearful of stuttering.
My experience: denial of stuttering and myself
1. Inadequate responses to stuttering by the parents and teachers effect children who stutter. When I was in the second year of elementary school, my classroom teacher removed me from the role of a play which required speaking on the stage on a school performance day. It may have been a kind consideration for me on my teacher's part, assuming it would be disgraceful for me to stutter in front of a large audience. On the contrary, I was deeply hurt, and this led me to have an inferiority complex because of stuttering, and I went through a very difficult adolescence.
Teachers' presumptions and unsolicited consideration sometimes hurt children's feelings deeply. I received a message from my teacher, "Do not stutter."
2. The message from my teacher made me think I should keep quiet so that I would not stutter. Since that time I tried very hard not to stutter. I kept saying "I do not know" in class even if I knew the answers to the teacher's questions. I also avoided taking any class officer roles. I found in my grade reports the notes by the teacher: "lack of motivation and laziness." I became more quiet and inactive. I thought that a person who stutters was not my true self but only a temporary disguise. I did not study hard or even play. I was totally negative about myself, wishing to recover from stuttering completely. I had no one to talk to about my suffering. My parents and teachers had no way of helping me since I closed down my mind.
Support for children who stutter
Extensive research on stuttering has been undertaken, but the exact cause of stuttering is unknown, and there is no complete cure. It is said that the rate of recovery from stuttering is about 45 percent in children who stuttered in early childhood. However, it is often the case that children have not recovered by the time they enter elementary school.
In my opinion it is important for parents and school teachers to let children know the following about stuttering. This helps them to accept the fact that they stutter:
If the child can admit the fact that he or she stutters, feels it all right to stutter and has a positive outlook on the future the child is on the first step toward being able to do and say what he or she wants. Parents and teachers play an important role in helping the child to reach this stage. If the child fails to go through this stage during their school age, they may well refuse to go to school and stay withdrawn during their adolescence.
By having accurate information about stuttering and facing the reality that stuttering is incurable, children can step forward to lead positive lives. Their parents and teachers will be able to deal with them adequately only if they have acquired minimum knowledge about stuttering.
Self-affirmation, trust in others, and contribution to others
In order for children who stutter to admit the fact that they stutter and to be able to speak for themselves, it is important for them to speak openly about their stuttering and feelings in school. Many children who stutter say when they must introduce themselves to the new class they feel anxious, but once they tell their classmates that they stutter, they find it a lot easier to get by in school. They will eventually realize that if they are open about their stuttering and do not avoid speaking situations, there will be nothing which they cannot achieve because of stuttering.
What parents and teachers can do for them is to provide them with opportunities in which children can experience success and develop their self-esteem. Children should be encouraged to read aloud and give presentations in front of their class even if they stutter. However, it is important to find out how the child feels about doing these things. If the child is badly effected by stuttering and unable to go to school, the child could be exempt from these tasks for awhile. For other children to understand the situation, stuttering should be openly discussed in class and at home. This will help them to respect individual differences among themselves.
2. Trust in others
Stuttering children are very concerned about the reaction of other children.. I found it more difficult during the break between classes than the time I was reading aloud stuttering in class. I was scared of my friends' reaction, wondering what my friends thought about me. For children who stutter to be able to accept themselves, they need to receive positive feedback from people around them. Even if children who stutter think it is all right to stutter, they will hesitate to read aloud or speak up in class if other children laugh or tease them about their stuttering. In order for children to develop trust in others, most importantly, parents should listen to their children without making a face, even if they stutter badly.
If stuttering children find someone who listens carefully to them with an interest in what they have to say, they can feel that they are accepted for who they are. The listener who does not react negatively to their stuttering helps the children who stutter to express themselves.
3. Contribution to others
It is hard on children to feel they are helpless. It would help stuttering children a lot if they were given roles at home and in class. They may resist taking roles, but while taking part they will be able to have a sense of achievement and feel they are contributing to others, which will develop their self-confidence.
Self-affirmation, trusting others, or contribution to others should be experienced by children depending on their family or classroom situation, but there is no order of which should be achieved first. However, this does not necessarily mean that special consideration should be given to children who stutter. These three assets are necessary for all children.
When I was young I was not able to express myself fully and I did not know my feelings because I was totally negative about my stutter and closed my mind. People around me had no clues about understanding me since I was withdrawn. If I only could have said when I was teased by other children "Stop it. I don't like it" and tell them how I was struggling with my stutter, my school age and adolescence would have been much easier.
We should provide support for children who stutter, focusing on the approaches to help them accept themselves and live with stuttering. One of the effective approaches is to help them to be able to express themselves assertively, and their parents and teachers should model for them how to do this. They should also deliver the message: "You must say what you think. It is important even if you stutter." If children who stutter learn to respect their own feelings, thinking as well of themselves as they do of others, and openly express themselves, stuttering will no longer be a big issue for them and their lives will be free from adverse effects by stuttering.
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