Stuttering and Worrying- What's the link?
For many stammers, there is a strong link between stammering and anxiety or worrying.
Lots of studies have found that anxiety and mental health issues were common in their stammering participants, with shyness, sensitivity, emotional insecurity and social avoidance being described characteristics.
As a Speech and Language Therapist, I can gather information from a case history, including background health conditions, family history of language difficulties and early developmental milestones.
I can then complete language assessments to rule out underlying language processing issues which can contribute to a stammer, such as word-finding difficulties or language sequencing issues.
I can talk to the pupil about how they feel about their stammer (I only ever do this with older children, usually over the age of 7, who are aware of their stammer) and what worries they have. This is part of their assessment and specialist intervention.
Occasionally onward referrals to a Psychologist or mental health expert are required.
Over time, I have heard the same types of worries for students, especially secondary school-aged pupils. And, over time, we have found suggestions of tips and adjustments that schools and teachers can do to support the pupil.
1. Worry: I don’t want other people to hear me stammer during the register.
Suggestion: Don’t insist the pupil answers the register with their voice.
Allow the pupil to raise their hand or look for ways the teacher can acknowledge the pupil is present in another way.
2. Worry: I don’t want the teacher to pick on me to answer a question.
Suggestion: Don’t force the pupil to answer questions on the spot in front of everyone else.
This is often a huge point of anxiety for older children in schools and can be so easily remedied by a supportive and understanding teacher.
Ask the student for an alternative that they prefer, like writing their answer on a whiteboard or typing it into a device (this works great if you are teaching remotely and can use the chat function).
3. Worry: I might have to miss some of my class to attend speech therapy sessions and the teacher will be angry with me
Suggestion: a speech therapy session (with a registered Speech and Language Therapist) is classed as a medical appointment and the pupil is legally permitted to leave class to attend. Stammering can be seen as a disability under the Equality Act (2010) and not allowing a child to leave class to attend can be seen as causing a barrier that needn’t be a big deal.
If you would rather not have your class interrupted, talk to the Speech Therapist and see if there is an alternative time you can agree on.
4. Worry: I might have to miss some of my class to attend speech therapy sessions in front of everybody else
Suggestion: make a prior arrangement with the pupil about what suits them best.
Reassure them that they can catch up on work missed and that their session is important. Arrange for them to sit near the door or wait in a different room until the start of their session if they would like to.
5. Worry: I don’t want to do group work because the others might pick on me
Suggestion: As much as possible, allow the pupil to work with their friends and people they feel comfortable with.
Reinforce turn-taking and assign a facilitator to make sure everyone has a turn at giving their opinions and that people are being kind.
Offer opportunities for independent working as an alternative (where possible).
6. Worry: I don’t want to do a presentation to the class because I might stammer
Suggestion: Is it essential that a presentation be made to the whole class? Is it possible for the presentation to be done in a different way? For example, the pupil could pre-record their presentation at home and play the video in class. Could the student present to you 1:1 at a different time? Is the student able to submit a written (or pictorial) presentation instead?
7. Worry: I might stammer during my oral language exam
Suggestion: Students are more likely to stammer in an oral exam for an alternative language to their mother tongue as they will be thinking about which words to use and which order to put them in.
Stammerers will undoubtedly require extra time in their oral language exams and this adjustment should be made.
It will also help the pupil to provide a quiet location with a trusted, familiar adult assessing them, ideally with a practise session before the exam to ease their anxieties.
I’d love to hear of ways you have supported children in your class or school with their worries about stammering. Sometimes what seems like a tiny issue for us can feel huge for the children we work with.
Here are some further sources of information for schools and people working with children who stammer:
I have a pre-recorded online course on Stammering for school and preschool staff (and parents who might be interested too!) . Click here for more information.
Grab my freebie! Click here to download a list of strategies for education settings to use to support children who stammer.
These organisations have websites and active social media accounts
STAMMA.org- The British Stammering Association. Click here for their website.
Action for stammering children. Click here for their website.