(The following handout accompanied a session at the ASHA Convention in Seattle, WA, November 1996. It is reproduced below with permission. JAK)
Department of Speech and Audiology
Speech Language Pathologist
Early Childhood Specialist
GOALS FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WHO STUTTER
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
II. Educate Others
- With booklets and other printed materials from the Stuttering Foundation of America, and other organizations such as the National Stuttering Project.
- By talking with a Speech/Language Pathologist
- about what stuttering is.
- about what stuttering is not.
- about the theories explaining causes of stuttering.
- about what exacerbates stuttering.
- about what may lessen stuttering.
- about your concerns for your child's feelings, and your concerns about what stuttering may mean for his/her future.
- about assessing the need for therapy, and about options for therapy (individual groups, sporadic therapy).
- about how to determine the "right" time for therapy, and how to decide when breaks from therapy are needed.
- 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.
- 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.
- By learning about fluency enhancing strategies, and how they may be used to create an environment which supports fluent speech.
- By learning about different therapy approaches and which ones may be best used to help your child.
- By learning about all of the famous, successful and creative people who have been challenged by stuttering, in the past and in the present.
III. Be an Advocate
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
a. be a model for your child's peers by tanking in an open way with the stutterer about disfluency.
b. bully proof your child.
- 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).
- With educators:
a. be sure teachers are aware of fluency enhancing strategies, situational triggers for stutterers, and options for involving the child on a nonverbal and/or on a less demanding verbal level.
b. be sure teachers understand the nature of disfluency, and are not confused by the fact that all stutterers have more or less fluent periods, and are more or less fluent situationally (for example, when reading aloud, singing, on the playground, etc.).
c. be sure that teachers have consultation and collaboration with a speech/language pathologist who is knowledgeable about stuttering, and experienced in treatment in this area.
d. be sure that teachers understand the necessity for openly acknowledging the situation with the disfluent child, and for involving the child in developing strategies for classroom participation.
e. be sure that teachers are comfortable with ways they can acknowledge the child's needs openly in class, in order to model their comfort with and acceptance of the child - when he/she is fluent, and when he/she is dysfluent.
- With speech/language pathologists:
a. Children who need treatment should have access to professionals with expertise in the area of stuttering.
b. Treatment options should include individual therapy, group therapy with other stutterers if available and appropriate, therapy intensity of more than once/week if needed, and collaboration/consultation with teachers and parents.
c. Treatment options may include different therapy strategies, e g. fluency shaping and stuttering modification.
d. Speech Pathologists should participate in educating the child's classmates about stuttering, in order to make disfluency a discussible, accessible and unembarrassing topic.
V. Develop your child's positive self-concept
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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