What Do I Do When...???

What do I do when…
“His teacher doesn’t notice, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered?”

This is a question I received recently - and one those of us who specialize in the area of fluency disorders receive (in various versions) all the time.

Before I launch into trying to answer this inquiry, let me first unpack the question as it is presented. Truly, there are at least two layers to this:

The first layer is the statement that the child does not “seem” to be bothered by stuttering. When someone tells me a school age student doesn’t seem to be bothered by stuttering, I ask myself this one question: What proof/data is there that he is not bothered in any aspect of functional, social and/or academic communication (a.k.a. the adverse impact areas of IDEA ’04)? We have to be hard on on ourselvles here, because our role is to make certain that we don’t just assume facts not in evidence, or simply extrapolate that the student is not bothered because he talks in class, etc. Moreover, just because he says he is not bothered in one speaking situation doesn’t mean he isn’t impacted by stuttering in any other area of his communication world.

So, we need to make certain that we are not satisfied by what appears to be true, but that we base our recommendations on what we know about the student. We can only have a sense of certainty when we have done extensive and ongoing assessment of the cognitive/affective and impact components of stuttering on this child’s life.

The second layer of the question involves the teacher’s report that stuttering is visible or is not impacting a student in the classroom. Again, we must play detective and continue to dig deeper. For example, we could probe further and ask the teacher:
"Does he talk in class?" Great.
"Only when he is called on?" I see.
"Does he volunteer to talk in class?" Hmmm…
"Does he only volunteer if it’s a short answer?" 
"Is he the student holding the poster and pointing during group projects instead of sharing information aloud?" 
Does this teacher see any avoidance patterns (or does the teacher even know what to look for regarding avoidances of stuttering)?

In other words, we need to know whether or not this student is speaking freely in the classroom and accessing the curriculum to the extent he would if he didn’t stutter! If not, why not? 

Whew! There are many layers to get through and much to discover! For certain, we must dig beneath ther "surface" of any answers we receive to our queries regarding a student's communication in academic and social settings.

In the end, if after a thorough and ongoing study of a student’s cognitive/affective reactions and social communication, we discover that he is truly not held back by stuttering, then we celebrate! At that point one of our roles becomes to support his environment (parents, teachers and others) in understanding this paradigm shift.

Freedom of expression-stuttered or not- is a WIN!

Nina Reeves

Written by : Nina Reeves

Nina Reeves, M.S. CCC-SLP is a staff fluency specialist at Frisco ISD in Texas and fluency specialist consultant for San Diego Unified Schools. She focuses her private practice on children and adolescents who stutter and their families. Nina is a presenter and author, volunteering her time for both the National Stuttering Association and the Stuttering Foundation. Her more recent works include Early Childhood Stuttering: A Practical Guide, School-Age Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide, the Minimizing Bullying program, and more (all published by Stuttering Therapy Resources, Inc.