Having a child who stammers in your class can be a challenging experience. Why is he stammering one moment and fine the next? Is he putting it on? What should I do about the register or a presentation? Should I ask him to contribute? This article will try to answer some of your questions.

We now are much closer to understanding what causes stammering, but it remains a complex question. Stammering tends to run in families. Genetics, along with other things about a child’s physical make-up can make them more vulnerable to starting to stammer.

Children usually start to stammer between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, a time when their language skills are developing rapidly. Around 5% of children start to stammer and of these, around four out of five will overcome it; some will just naturally grow out of it, and others will do with therapy early on. Around 1% of children will continue to stammer into adulthood.

When someone stammers you might hear…

  • Repetitions of whole, single-syllable words e.g. “and and and”
  • Repetitions of sounds e.g. “b-because”
  • Stretching out sounds (prolongations) e.g. “lllike”
  • Words appearing to ‘get stuck’ (blocks), where the airflow stops and nothing comes out.

Some children can become experts in ‘hiding’ their stammer. They might avoid talking completely in some situations, say less, or change words in order to appear more fluent. Within the classroom they might pretend they don’t know the answer, give very brief answers, not put their hand up, or volunteer for tasks that involve speaking.

Stammering is different for everyone, but typically what other people can see or hear when someone stammers is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Stammering can affect a child’s emotional wellbeing and their ability to communicate as they would like. In school, possible challenges include:

  • Reading out loud or talking in front of the class or school;
  • Answering the register;
  • Taking part in fast moving conversations in the playground;
  • Being distracted by worries about speech, making it hard to concentrate and learn;
  • Being teased or bullied, and;
  • Speaking under time pressure.

The longer a child has been stammering the more likely it is that they will continue to stammer, so getting help early is really important. Therapy gives children ways to manage moments of stammering more effectively. This could be using a control strategy such as slowing down, but can also be ways to communicate confidently and say what they want to whether or not they are stammering.

To find out about how to best help an older child who stammers, ask them. They might be embarrassed about their stammering, so be discreet… you could say something like “I’ve noticed that you’re struggling with your speech. Shall we have a chat sometime about it?”. As part of our Stammering Information Programme project, we asked over 50 children and young people what they wanted teachers to know. These are their ‘Top Tips’:

About us

  • We are much more than just our stammer.
    “I don’t think that the stammer is my main feature or characteristic, I’m just a normal 18 year old.”
    “Someone who’s got a stammer should be treated like everyone else.”
  • There is no link between stammering and intelligence.
    “People usually judge you by your first appearance and if the first thing you do is talk funny people do sometimes think that you’re not as bright.”
  • Certain situations make us stammer more. Many of us find being put on the spot or under pressure the hardest.
    “It isn’t always easy if I’m put on the spot.” “… and it would make me feel more uncomfortable and then that would normally lead to me stammering more.”

How to help us

  • Ask us how you can help and involve us in decisions.
    “What I would really like my teachers to do is come over to me and have a little talk.”
  • Give us time to think and speak.
    “A good teacher doesn’t interrupt what I’m saying. They give me time to speak.” “After I’ve been asked a question if I was given the time to start thinking about the answer and my speech as well it would be very helpful because I could think of some techniques for my speech.”
  • Let us finish our sentences in our own time.
    “People in general will try and finish your sentences for you. They probably think that it helps, but the majority of people who stammer would rather know that they can finish their own sentences.”
  • Tell us we’re doing ok and calm us down if needed, but don’t advise us about our speech.
    “I don’t really like being told to slow down.”
    “People tell me to hurry up, but I get annoyed because I speed up and then I stammer more, so then it takes even more time to get the words out.”

What else to know

  • We want you to understand that we stammer and how it makes us feel.
    “Teachers should ask me questions about how I feel about having a stammer.”
  • Some of us get bullied and feel isolated.
    “There were these two friends of mine, and then they weren’t my friends because they walked off and said that I couldn’t talk because I’ve got a stammer.”
  • Family support is important too.
    “Supportive families are really helpful ‘cos they just help you to release all of the pressure and tension that builds up if you start to stammer a lot.”
  • We should be referred to a speech & language therapist (with parental consent).
    “Everyone who stammers should come to speech therapy… it teaches you new techniques to cope with it and how to actually live with it.”

How to get help

As soon as you have concerns about a child’s fluency, discuss referring to Speech and Language Therapy with the child’s parents.

Parents, school staff and therapists can access the British Stammering Association Helpline on 0800 802 0002. We can answer questions, give advice and information.

Children across the UK can be seen at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering for specialist consultations and second opinions. Call us for more information.

According to the latest research from Stamma.org and Action for Stammering Children (Feb 2022) evidence indicates that 8% of children stammer at some point (albeit temporarily). Stammering needs to be addressed with advice from your speech and language therapist. For more detailed information on how you can support a child who stammers please see our articles in The Link and our blogs.

Issue 9 – Stammer vs Stutter

Issue 9 – Supporting a child who stammers

Issue 10 – Stammering and Education

Dyslexia and Stammering – Enemy or Advantage?

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