3 Ways to Promote Self-Advocacy in Children who Stutter

December 3, 2018
Mark O’Malia, M.S., CCC-SLP
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As a speech therapist who works with children who stutter, I have found that one of the most important components of a successful therapy experience is giving the child skills to be their own self-advocate. We live in a world where there are many myths, falsehoods, and inaccuracies circulating about stuttering, and the “best ways” to help as a listener may not be clear. While it is important for the speech therapist to take on the role of advocate to educate and model appropriate behaviors, it is arguably more important to instill advocacy skills in our clients so they can share the best ways for the listeners in their life to support them. After all, they are the experts of their own experience with stuttering.Here are 3 therapeutic activities meant to develop a child’s self-advocacy skills:

1. Roleplay! Roleplay! Roleplay!

Many children who stutter can identify what they would like from their listeners. However, it's not always easy to figure out how to actually ask for it. So, one of the most engaging ways to practice self-advocacy is through role playing specific situations that the child has encountered with their stuttering in the past. Did they have an experience on the playground where a child asked “Why do you talk like that?”, or had a moment where the teacher finished their answer before they had a chance to do so? Use that as your chance to “rewrite the story.” Help them develop their own ways to respond if they had another chance by acting it out. That way, if a similar situation happens again, they are prepared to deal with it in a more productive way. Check out this AIS client showing her own skills with self-advocacy while ordering her ice cream after roleplaying the situation beforehand.

2. Draft a letter or e-mail to new communication partners

Oftentimes, fear increases when we enter situations where we know others don’t know much about stuttering. For this reason, situations like the start of the new school year or the first meeting of an extracurricular activity can be notoriously stressful for kids who stutter. However, if we help children figure out ways to self-advertise and explore things they would like their future communication partners to know about them and their preferences, it can demystify the process of starting something new. The most efficient way to do this is to draft a letter or send an email written by the child in their own words to start the process of self-advocacy.

3. Create a classroom presentation about stuttering

Unfortunately, it is all too common for kids who stutter to be teased or bullied at some point in school. Through working with people of all ages who stutter, we have seen the power of demystifying stuttering, and putting it into the context of just the way that someone speaks. Once the child is able to identify and understand the whats, whys, and hows of stuttering, it can be empowering for them to develop a short classroom presentation to share with their peers. Having the child take the lead in this can also help them with content organization, prioritizing what they want their listeners to understand about their experience, and ultimately, “normalizing” stuttering so it no longer has to be treated like the pink elephant in the room.It is important to note that every child’s experience with stuttering is unique, so it is always best practice to adapt and adjust these suggestions to the specific needs of the child.The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.

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