Just the other day, one of our clinicians started doing surveys with a 6-year-old client. They strolled around the child's school, stopping friendly adults in the office and hallways so the child could ask them who their favorite Spiderman character is. (Like trick-or-treating—but with a clipboard and a Crayola marker.) Did he stutter? Sometimes. Did the adults mind? They LOVED it. Everyone made a huge deal about how excited they were to be asked, how important the decision was…And this 6-year-old got some very real-world validation that courage, grit, and the simple joy of communication were all more important than the fluency of his speech.
In stuttering therapy, it’s easy to get stuck thinking that activities designed to help clients approach (instead of avoid) challenging speaking situations, in a way that feels safe and successful—is only for adults. But we can help young children face a variety of speaking situations…which can pave the road for less tense and avoidant speaking patterns. We can also help parents and teachers see the power of praising their child’s vulnerability and bravery, rather than their fluency.
How to do it:
The key here is “scaffolding”: set up the activity so that your client can take baby steps toward the challenging situation. Use a red/yellow/green check-in to assess the threat level of doing the survey. How can we take that threat closer to green? Maybe your client watches you do the survey, initially. Maybe you do the talking at first. Some kids like role-playing surveys with stuffed animals first. Gradually and systematically try to build your client up to taking that risk. And if she’s a “sticker-chart” kind of kid…maybe give her a gold star as a reward.
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.