(The following handout accompanied a session at the ASHA Convention in Seattle, WA, November 1996. It is reproduced below with permission. JAK)

Purdue University
Department of Speech and Audiology

Bill Murphy
Speech Language Pathologist

Hope Gulker
Early Childhood Specialist


Parents of children who stutter are understandably concerned about the way disfluency may affect their child's life. The most important thing parents can do is to put stuttering into perspective, as only one aspect - and certainly not the most important one - of the child's development. Stuttering should be normalized. Be sure to focus most of your attention and energy on your child's character, strengths, talents, and potentials. And try to learn about stuttering, so that you are prepared to help your child when you are needed.

I. Educate Yourself

  1. With booklets and other printed materials from the Stuttering Foundation of America, and other organizations such as the National Stuttering Project.
  2. By talking with a Speech/Language Pathologist
  3. By learning the "language" of stuttering, so that you are comfortable with and able to talk about stuttering with your child, family, friends and the professionals involved in your child's life.
  4. By talking with other parents of current or past stutterers. Support groups for parents of stutterers may be available in your area - or you may wish to consider starting one.
  5. By learning about fluency enhancing strategies, and how they may be used to create an environment which supports fluent speech.
  6. By learning about different therapy approaches and which ones may be best used to help your child.
  7. By learning about all of the famous, successful and creative people who have been challenged by stuttering, in the past and in the present.
II. Educate Others
  1. Family members, including siblings, grandparents and extended family need to learn about what stuttering is, what it is not, what may help a person who stutters, and what may increase disfluency.
  2. Teachers, Sunday school teachers, coaches and other professionals need to have ideas about how they might be helpful to the stuttering child, and about ways they may inadvertently make the stuttering child more uncomfortable.
  3. Key people in the child's life need to learn how to talk in a supportive and open way about stuttering. They need help in finding answers to their questions: When might it be appropriate and helpful to talk with the child about higher disfluency? When might this be inappropriate? It is important that family and friends become desensitized to stuttering as a topic, so that the child and his/her family and friends are not embarrassed about acknowledging and occasionally discussing his/her difficulty with speech
III. Be an Advocate
  1. With peers, by recognizing that an alternative will be needed to replace the discomfort, avoidance, giggles and other inappropriate responses that naturally occur when children notice something they are unsure of, and afraid to talk about.
  2. Teach the stuttering child to be an advocate for him/herself, but bringing up his/her stuttering in a natural, matter-of-fact way (much as a diabetic lets others know that he/she cannot share a candy bar).
  3. With educators:
  4. With speech/language pathologists:
IV. Normalize
  1. Keep the topic of stuttering open, but don't belabor it. In general, references to disfluency should be casual and comfortable, and relatively infrequent. It is important that stuttering become a topic no more "loaded" than a child's other challenges: allergies to pollen and grass, need to wear eyeglasses, etc. These topics are not discussed frequently, but are referred to by parents in a matter-of-fact way, as they help their child explain to a friend, or as they explain to a family member, how to make the child most comfortable.
  2. Focus on and develop the child's strengths, abilities and talents. These should be discussed often, and should command far more attention and time than the stuttering.
  3. Work on acknowledging openly, and in a matter-of-fact way, the challenges each person in your family faces. Mother may have a poor sense of direction, Dad may never be able to recall the names of favorite baseball players, sister may be struggling to learn to ride a two wheeler. Model the idea that, when faced with a difficulty, we acknowledge it, and keep working at it - we don't blame ourselves or others for our challenge, but we don't focus all of our energy on it either. Acknowledge that our challenges do interfere at tunes, and frustrate us. Re-focusing our thoughts on our abilities can energize us.
V. Develop your child's positive self-concept
  1. Identify pleasurable situations in which your child is most fluent, and/or most comfortable. Be sure to give him/her the opportunity to participate in contests which he/she enjoys. Some of these may be less demanding communicatively, or they may just be so much fun that the child is highly motivated to participate. Sports, scouts, 4-H, camp, music, arts and crafts, school clubs, and church groups might fit the bill - time to feel less stressed, time to have access to positive social interactions, and time to participate in activities in which your child feels successful.
  2. Be open about accepting and approving of your whole child -including his/her stuttering. As your child gets older, he/she may become skilled in using speech management techniques to manage stuttering, but remember - this is hard work, and it continues to be hard work for the disfluent person. Your child may want "time out" from speech management, and the safest place to relax and let down one's guard is at home. So be careful that you don't spend your time together in constantly monitoring the child's fluency, and in directly correcting or trying to control your child's speech. Certainly there is a time and a place for practice, which you, your child's therapist, and your child have agreed upon - perhaps ten or twenty minute sessions at home, a few times a week, where you have all agreed to help the child remember to use and practice speech management techniques. For the remaining 23+ hours each day, accept your child as he/she is, fluent, disfluent, messy, neat, energetic, relaxed, noisy, quiet - learn to place fluency and disfluency in the same accepting framework you apply when appreciating your child, and expressing your love and admiration for him/her, as a whole, unique, individual.

added with permission, December 18, 1996