Stammering is a hidden disability that affects 1 per cent of adults and up to 9 per cent of children. With numbers like this, it is very likely you will encounter a child who stammers in your class or school.
I’m a teacher who stammers and I wanted to tell you what behaviours to look for and give you some tips on getting the best from pupils who stammer.
There is a range of overt behaviours you might notice in a young person who stammers. These include:
- Putting hands over or around the mouth.
- Repeating words and sounds.
- Seeming tense and anxious.
- Speaking in a funny voice, such as a baby voice.
- Speaking more quietly, or sometimes more loudly.
- Talking when they feel able to speak, so that they may interrupt or call out in class and seem rude.
- Using a filler word or words – such as "like", "and", "y'know" or "sort of" – to act as a run into speaking.
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There is also a range of covert behaviours you might notice when a young person stammers. These include:
- Avoiding talking and getting out of situations where talking is expected.
- Behaving in ways that may cover up the stammer: being quiet and hardworking, being difficult, and even trying to dominate other children.
- Compromising on what they would like to do or say and seeing situations as an exposure of their stammering.
- Judging opportunities solely in terms of their stammer: for example, deciding to avoid school trips or visits to friends' houses.
- Planning ahead in their talking, meaning that they are continually worrying about choice of words.
- Talking so quietly that you cannot hear what is said.
- Worrying about friendships, simple social demands such as buying sweets, paying bus fares, telephoning, and feeling generally worried about what is coming next.
There are some easy tips to help young people feel at ease in your class and get the most from education:
Give a stutterer the time to allow to finish, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for you. If there is a behaviour issue to deal with in the class while a pupil is stammering, then stop them gently and say you will return in a moment.
2. Plan ahead to aid participation in class
Being given notice of oral tasks, so that planning can take place, helps most children. The child who stammers usually benefits from being given time to plan ahead; anxiety is reduced by knowing when an answer is expected to be given or a passage read aloud. Some children who stammer prefer to go first to avoid the build-up of anxiety, while others may simply just want to know their turn.
3. Monitor for underachievement
Children who stammer have the same range of abilities and personality traits as children who do not. It is easy to underestimate the ability of a child who stammers as he or she may not always be able to express his thoughts and ideas. Teachers should track achievement in relation to the potential of the child, using whatever cognitive tests are favoured in their school.
And remember, crucially, that just because a child does not appear able to talk, it does not mean that they do not understand.