About the presenter: Peter Reitzes, MA, CCC-SLP, is an adult stutterer and an ASHA certified, speech-language pathologist working in an elementary school and in private practice in Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Reitzes is the author of 50 Great Activities for Children Who Stutter: Lessons, Insights, and Ideas for Therapy Success (PRO-ED) and is co-editor (with Gregory Snyder) of the Journal of Stuttering Therapy, Advocacy and Research (www.JournalOfStuttering.com). Mr. Reitzes may be contacted at www.StutterNY.com.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2006.


Dear Abby Letters: Talking Openly About Stuttering

by Peter Reitzes
from New York, USA

It is common for children who stutter to develop negative feelings and negative attitudes towards stuttering (Starkweather & Givens-Ackerman, 1997). Working to face and cope with negative feelings is often considered as therapeutically significant as working on speaking strategies (Chmela & Reardon, 2001; Guitar, 1998; Reitzes, 2006; Sheehan, 1970; Starkweather & Givens-Ackerman, 1997: Yaruss & Reardon, 2002). Reading, discussing, and writing Dear Abby letters provides students with opportunities to talk openly about stuttering and to face negative feelings and attitudes (Reitzes, 2006). Dear Abby letters are also helpful because children who are uncomfortable talking openly about their own stuttering are often more willing to talk openly about other people's stuttering.

Purpose

Materials
  • Dear Abby letters (PDF file)
  • Write Your Own Dear Abby Letter handout (PDF file)
  • Homework (PDF file)
  • Pencils

    Directions People who stutter are stuttering "experts" because they live and cope with stuttering every day (Murphy, 2000; Quesal, 1999; Reitzes, 2002; St. Louis, 2001). To begin this activity, explain to students:

    Many children who stutter have a lot of questions about stuttering. These children need help and want advice on how to deal with their stuttering. You are the real stuttering experts because you live with stuttering every day. Today we are going to read a few letters written by children who stutter who need your advice. Let's see what advice you want to give to help these children.

    Dear Abby letters allow you to assess how students respond to stuttering situations by the advice they give to other children. For example, if students mention that the best way to handle reading aloud in class is by rushing to the bathroom to avoid talking, you will want to engage students in discussing more productive ways to manage this situation. Before facilitating this activity, read through the six Dear Abby letters to familiarize yourself with them. Assign a Dear Abby letter to read in speech class, pass out copies of the letter, read the letter aloud as a group, then lead the group in a discussion of the letter. If you are working with a student individually, you may ask the student to invite a friend to speech class to participate in this activity if you feel it is appropriate. As a guide, you may consider the following discussion of each Dear Abby Letter.

    My Name is Not Peter Cottontail. Many children will be able to relate to the fear of speaking in class and the fear of saying their own name. Students have responded to this story with a wide variety of suggestions that have included, "Peter could write his name on a piece of paper and hold it up," "He could go get a drink of water and miss his turn" and, "Peter should use a speech tool to say his name." Take the time to discuss each student's suggestions. One year several students suggested that Peter say his name by breaking it into syllables (i.e., "Pe-ter"). In response, I suggested that instead of pausing or stopping within a word, students practice gently stretching (prolonging) the first sound of a word to smoothly initiate it. We then practiced saying our names and other words by gently stretching first sounds (i.e., SSSSSteven).

    I Hate Fish. Some students easily relate to this letter and explain how they also rely on word substitutions. Other students have responded to this letter by saying that they never change their words only to mention later in therapy that they do. One year several students agreed that ordering food at a restaurant was a very difficult task. In response, this group spent several sessions role-playing ordering food at a restaurant. Students constructed signs and menus, arranged the speech room to look like a fast food restaurant, and took turns playing the roles of the child, a parent, and the counter person.

    Teasing is Not Cool. Many children who stutter will face teasing and bullying situations (Langevin, 2001; Langevin, Bortnick, Hammer & Wiebe, 1998). Students respond to this story in a variety of ways such as "I get teased too," "No one teases me," "I want my teacher to stop the teasing in school," and "I am not supposed to tattle on other kids." Students who initially state that they are not teased may say later in the therapy process, "Remember that story we read about teasing? Well, I get teased too." One way to discuss teasing situations is by holding up your hand and saying, "I have five fingers on this hand let's come up with five things we can do to handle being teased."

    Mouth Traffic. Some students may suggest that Jorge use a speech tool to work through his stuttering. Others suggest that Jorge choose not to get a drink at the movies to avoid stuttering. Some students have suggested that Jorge's mother order his drink for him. While it is ideal for a child who stutters to speak for himself, there will be times in which a child may ask someone else to do his speaking. It is my belief that honoring a child's request by occasionally speaking for him demonstrates a deep level of understanding and empathy towards stuttering and is completely acceptable. In situations in which students voice fears about speaking in public, you may wish to engage them in voluntary stuttering activities to help reduce the fear of stuttering and to practice easy or controlled stuttering (Reitzes, 2006). One year this activity lead to a student writing her mother a letter about stuttering. This young girl did not want her mother to speak for her or cut her off when she stuttered and the letter explained this to her mother.

    After discussing the advice or ideas that students present, provide them the opportunity to generate their own terminology to describe how they talk. Explain, "Jorge calls his stuttering 'mouth traffic.' What are words we can use to describe your stuttering?"

    To discuss secondary behaviors, say:

    In his letter, Jorge writes, "I know that sometimes when my mouth gets stuck I close my eyes." Some children blink their eyes when they stutter and other children may clench their hands or tap their feet. What kind of things do you do when your words get stuck?

    Gym Problem. This letter allows students to consider how avoiding stuttering often leads to unwanted situations. To begin the discussion, ask students, "How can we help Betty solve this problem? Is Betty allowed to tell her gym teacher that she stutters?" Students may suggest that Betty write her gym teacher a letter, approach the gym teacher with her speech teacher's assistance, or ask her speech teacher or a parent to speak privately to the gym teacher. Ask students, "If this were your problem, what would you do?" After reading this letter, some students will share similar experiences. For example, one third grader explained simply, "I would rather give the wrong answer during math then stutter on the right answer." Guide students in finding and role-playing productive ways to handle such situations.

    B-B-B-B-B-Baseball Practice. This letter allows you to focus on ways to help students productively consider, discuss and manage teasing situations.

    Write Your Own Dear Abby Letter

    After discussing several Dear Abby letters, pass out the Write Your Own Dear Abby Letter handout. Explain, "We all need to ask for help and advice sometimes. Write a letter that describes a difficult stuttering problem that you are having or have had. End the letter by asking for advice."

    You may wish to first present students with your own Dear Abby letter as an example. Your letter may describe a difficult situation that you have had to face as a child, such as a friend of yours stealing something or about a time that you broke something expensive and were not sure what to do. End your letter by asking your students for advice. Of course, if you happen to be a speech-language pathologist who stutters, you may write about a difficult stuttering-related situation that you have encountered. Then ask students to write their own Dear Abby letter concerning a stuttering-related situation.

    More Ideas

  • Have students read a Dear Abby letter and respond in writing before discussing the letter as a group. This is done because some students may express themselves more openly during writing assignments than during class discussions.
  • With your student's help and approval, create a school bulletin board about stuttering and post Dear Abby letters and students' written responses.
  • Help students submit Dear Abby letters and written responses to a school newspaper or newsletter for publication. Or engage students in writing their own school or class newsletter that includes Dear Abby letters and student responses.
  • See Reitzes (2006, pp. 247-257) for additional Dear Abby letters, homework assignments, and ideas.

    Homework
    You may use the sample homework assignments provided or write your own homework assignments to meet the specific needs of students. Only assign homework that you feel is productive and appropriate. Be sure to pass out copies of the necessary Dear Abby letters when assigning homework. Also, you may use the provided homework assignments during speech class as additional lessons.

    Acknowledgments:
    I would like to thank Cindy Drolet and David Reitzes for editing assistance.

    Adapted from Reitzes, P. (2006). 50 Great Activities for Children Who Stutter. Austin, TX: PRO-ED, Inc. www.proedinc.com

    References
    Chmela, C. A., & Reardon, N A. (2001). The school-age child who stutters: Working effectively with attitudes and emotions (Publication No. 5). Memphis, TN: Stuttering Foundation of America.

    Guitar, B. (1998) Stuttering: An integrated approach to its nature and treatment. Baltimore,MD: Lippincott Williams & Williams

    Langevin, M. (2001, October 1). Helping children deal with teasing and bullying. Paper presented at the 2001 International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference. Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad4/papers/langevin.html

    Langevin, M., Bortnick, K., Hammer, T., & Wiebe, E. (1998).Teasing/bullying experienced by children who stutter: Toward development of a questionnaire. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 23, 12-24.

    Murphy, B. (2000, October 1). Speech pathologists can help children who are teased because they stutter. Paper presented at the 2000 International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference. Retrieved July 8, 2006, from http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/ISAD3/papers/murphy.html

    Quesal, B. (1999). Basic truths about stuttering therapy. Bradberry & N. Reardon (Eds.)Our Voices: Inspirational insight from young people who stutter. Anaheim Hills, CA: National Stuttering Association. pp. 163-166.

    Reitzes, P. (2002). Stutter across america: Summer trek takes FRIENDS message on the road. Advance Magazine for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, 12, 11.

    Reitzes, P. (2006). 50 great activities for children who stutter: Lessons, insights, and ideas for therapy success. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

    Sheehan, J.G. (1970). Stuttering Research and Therapy. New York: Harper & Row.

    St. Louis K. O. (2001). Living with stuttering: Stories, basics, resources, and hope. Morgantown, WV: Populore.

    Starkweather, C.W., & Givens-Ackerman, J. (1997). Stuttering. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

    Yaruss, J.S., & Reardon, N.A. (2002). Successful communication for children who stutter: Finding the balance. Seminars in Speech and Language, 23,195-204.


    You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2006.


    August 16, 2006
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