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The Challenges of Remote Learning for Children Who Stutter

The effort and anxiety of trying to hide a stutter is worse for most people than being disfluent, said Diane Paul, director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Because of this, speech-language pathologists work closely with students on ways to disclose their stutter so that they feel comfortable talking — and stuttering — in class.

How students disclose will vary according to age, comfort level and individual choice, Dr. Paul said. In the remote learning environment, they might choose to do it via email, like Kaitlyn, or on a chat screen. Some students coordinate with their teachers to plan a time to tell their classmates. Others might wait until a moment of stuttering, or even intentionally stutter, Dr. Paul said, and then say something like: “Sometimes I repeat sounds. That’s called stuttering. Just wanted you all to know. We’ve all got something.”

Professor Sisskin encourages her patients to lean on humor. For example: “We were given five minutes to prepare this book report. I prepared three minutes because I knew I was going to stutter.” Or, “No … my Wi-Fi isn’t breaking up; that’s me stuttering.”

Interjecting humor has two purposes, she said. It reduces the desire to hide the stutter because you’ve already put it out there, and it lets others know that you’re open about it and not ashamed.

If students prefer not to speak publicly, they should work with their teachers to find alternative ways to participate and connect with other students, Professor Sisskin said. For example, they could share their vast knowledge of Minecraft in a breakout room or show their humor in a chat.

A simple video assignment worked well for Ms. Polley’s son, Danny. Students were asked to record short videos of themselves discussing a favorite book or vacation. It was out of Danny’s comfort zone, but just a little bit, she said, and the subject matter, combined with the option to pre-record, struck a sweet spot.

“He could record it multiple times if he needed to. And the topic was himself, so he knew the material well.”

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