Today we’re talking about how to help kids talk about stuttering with other kids.
Too often, when we think about peer interactions at school, our minds go straight to bullying. But sometimes kids are just curious. They notice something different that someone else is doing, and they just want to know: why? If we haven’t equipped kids to talk about their speech difference, in a simple and nonchalant way, these interactions can feel like a threat, amplifying the danger associated with stuttering and contributing to an instinct to hide and avoid.
One common way to address this is to guide the child in developing a formal presentation for his or her class on the topic of stuttering. While this can be hugely empowering for some, many children aren't going to be ready for this, and pushing them to do it before feeling ready can do more harm than good. Instead, just helping kids brainstorm a few casual responses, lines they can say in the moment, can go a long way in building a sense of security—and help “normalize” stuttering in the process.
How to do it: Ask your client to imagine another kid asking about his or her speech. Write the imagined question or comment, verbatim, on one of those giant Post-It notes. Below the quote, draw a vertical line to make two columns. Get your client to think up every single possible reaction for that moment: casual reactions, ugly reactions, crazy reactions. Really have fun with it, and list every idea in the left-hand column. Then, in the right-hand column, list a likely outcome to each idea. What would happen if you said, “Oh, that’s just how I talk”? If you picked a fight? If you ran straight out of the room? Once you have a list of consequences, ask your client to choose the most desirable ones. Then back up to see if the matching reactions feel comfortable enough to use. By the end of the activity, you’ll have two or three responses the child can try out in real-life situations.
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, Atlanta, GA, and Los Angeles, CA, and services are also available online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.
Gregory Scott, M.A., CCC-SLP
Gregory joined the AIS staff in 2021. He lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he is excited to expand AIS services for people who stutter and their families on the West Coast.