What is stammering all about?
- Disrupts the flow of speech with repetition, prolonging or blocking of words and sounds with possible facial tension and extra body movement. The pitch, tone and volume of the voice may be altered.
- Has no single cause, although there may be a genetic link. There is no single or definite cure and there is no single best strategy for supporting pupils. Current research indicates that the cause of stammering has a physiological basis in the brain structure.
- Is found in every culture and language at an incidence of about 1% of the adult population and is not linked with ability or personality profiles.
- Is usually made worse by stress and anxiety and can come and go, even in the same conversation.
- Usually starts between 2 and 5 years and early intervention by a speech and language therapist at this stage gives the best chance of recovery. It is thought that about I in 80 children of school age do stammer, but with modern therapy approaches leading to recovery for young children this number should continue to fall.
On entry to secondary school, the Guidance Teacher, or designated member of staff, should liaise with the parents, the pupil and the speech and language therapist, if one is involved.
If the pupil is not receiving therapy, the pupil's speech should be monitored and, if there is concern, the pupil and the parents, should be consulted about arranging a referral to a speech and language therapist who specialises in stammering.
In some areas there may not be a school-based service for secondary pupils, and therapy will be offered in the clinic. Some services will also offer intensive therapy sessions during school holidays.
Simple strategies for staff to support a pupil who stammers
- Aim to build self-esteem so the pupil manages his speaking with confidence, even when stammering severely.
- Ensure that the other pupils are supportive in their talking, listening and behaviour.
- Give time to finish, and do not interrupt or finish off words.
- Listen attentively and echo back some content so that the pupil feels that what he said is more important than how he said it.
- Maintain normal eye contact and do not show impatience while he is talking: for example avoid frequently nodding, getting on with another task or signalling irritation through tense body language or gestures while the pupil is talking.
- Slow your own speech with natural pauses, signalling that there is no need to rush.
- Encourage him to participate in all oral activities.
- Give support to the pupil who stammers and talk regularly with him about what strategies are helpful.