ASU offers peer group support, therapy for children who stutter

June 24, 2022

Children who stutter will learn strategies and know when to use them

Every classroom is filled with talkative kids, but for some kids, the words don’t flow effortlessly.

Arizona State University is offering a five-week program for kids who stutter this summer, where they will not only learn strategies, but also share their experiences with other kids like them.

The Friends Stuttering Group, for children ages 6-12, begins June 28 and runs twice a week for five weeks. The group, offered by ASU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, is also offered weekly in the fall and spring semesters over 10 weeks.

The goal is to empower children to deal with stuttering in the best way for them, according to Victoria Clark, a clinical assistant professor at the College of Health Solutions who leads the program.

Children who stutter may feel different from their peers not only because they speak differently, but also because stuttering is relatively rare, said Clark, who has worked as a speech therapist in schools.

“In schools, I can have 60 to 80 children on my caseload, but often only one or two children who receive services for stuttering,” she said.

“There just aren’t many, so some kids have never met another person who stutters. That’s why we wanted to provide a group experience to bring children together and facilitate positive peer interactions.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, between 1% and 5% of the population will experience a stutter at some point in their lives, with 5% to 8% of children newly identified each year. Stuttering is a communication disorder that disrupts the flow of a person’s speech, with disfluencies such as repetition or prolongation of sounds, syllables or words, as well as blockages where they are not able to produce sound, according to the National Stuttering Association.

Clark said that according to current research, stuttering is believed to occur at about the same rate in all languages ​​of the world, although there are differences in how stuttering is viewed from culture to culture. ‘other.

“It is considered a genetic and neurological (brain-based) disease, and although treatment can be very helpful, it is not considered ‘curable’ and we advise our clients and their families that they can benefit from therapy as needed throughout their lives,” she said.

In the Among Friends group, ASU graduate students training to become speech-language pathologists deliver the therapy, under Clark’s supervision. The group is a good complement to therapy, she says.

“One thing we notice is that when kids are working with adults one on one, they don’t always have those skills outside of the therapy session.

“We wanted to give them a chance to talk to other kids about being a person who stutters and give them strategies to use when they want to stutter less,” she said.

Clark answered some questions from ASU News about stuttering and the group Among Friends.

Question: What is stuttering?

Answer: You will hear people refer to stuttering as “disfluency” because it is a problem with the fluency of speech. But working with children, I’ve found that it’s best to use the word ‘stutter’ to reduce the stigma of speaking with disfluencies. We use strategies and activities to increase confidence in communication and desensitize children and their families to speech disfluencies. The more we can overcome this shame, the better.

For the facts, the best place to look is ASHA.org, the national organization that certifies speech-language pathologists and the first stop for evidence-based practice.

Stuttering can be a repetition of sounds or syllables. We all have speech disfluencies, but when these disfluencies exceed specified thresholds, it can be considered a speech disorder. What goes along with this is what speakers report from their experience. Maybe a person’s stutter is not noticeable to listeners, but they find it very difficult to speak fluently. They can avoid talking.

When a person resists stuttering, they may experience “secondary behaviors,” which consist of physical tension, blinking, and other unnecessary movements that can increase over time and interfere with communication beyond the stutter. impact of the original stutter. We practice easy and relaxed speech to reduce these secondary behaviors.

Q: Can stuttering be cured?

A: Some programs claim to cure. But the best available evidence is that stuttering is lifelong, although most people experience increases and decreases in disfluency over time. In fact, in schools, when children practice overcoming a speech sound difference like a lisp, we fire them from our services. For children who stutter, we tend to keep them on file, even if it’s just to check how their communication is going at home, at school, with friends, etc.

Stuttering can increase or decrease over time in unexpected ways and in response to stress. We emphasize to families that nothing is considered a cure. And while that may seem frustrating, it can also take a little pressure off that child to try to heal them.

Even speech therapists who stutter report that with all their training, they find that sometimes fluency strategies work and sometimes they stop working as effectively. Stuttering research continues to try to shed light on these mysteries.

Q: When should parents consider therapy?

A: The incidence of stuttering in preschool children is around 5-8%, but most of these children stop stuttering within a year or two. It is more prevalent in boys than in girls, and there are other factors. If they have a parent or close family member who stutters, they may be less likely to quit. If it lasts at least a year, they may be more likely to continue. Most start before age 4, and the later they start stuttering, the less likely they are to recover.

Some factors that would lead you to seek help would be if the stutter lasts for at least six months or if it seems to bother them. Often it seems to families that the stuttering doesn’t bother the child, but often the child just doesn’t have the words to describe it, and if no one talks to them about it openly, they may conclude that talking about the stuttering doesn’t bother them. is not an option.

Q: What do you talk about in Friends sessions?

A: We cover four areas: feelings and attitudes about communication, the physical mechanism of speech, speech fluency strategies, and family discussion and coaching to listen well to children who stutter. .

Q: How do you teach these strategies?

A: The focus for this has changed in recent years. Previously, they learned fluency strategies so as not to stutter. But the truth is that using these strategies takes a lot of focus and a lot of practice while they’re also trying to think of what to say.

So we teach strategies, but we also give the person who stutters a lot of control and information about how they want to use them outside of the therapy session. It’s up to them and we try to give them that choice as soon as possible.

As we get older, we practice things like self-disclosure or telling people they’re a stutterer, so it breaks the tension for the listener and it’s not an unspoken issue in their interactions. They can say something like, “Sometimes I stutter on certain words, but don’t worry, I’m fine,” and move on.

Q: Can children who stutter be bullied?

A: Many children have never met someone who stutters. You can imagine it would be very isolating to feel like you’re the only one struggling to speak fluently. And yes, sooner or later most people who stutter report that they experience negative reactions or comments from other people.

We approach this by asking children to identify where and when they feel comfortable talking and where they don’t. We discuss what others told them about their speech.

We help them understand what helps and what doesn’t help them communicate. We make sure they know the facts about stuttering. In popular opinion, stuttering is often associated with nervousness. Nervousness can make it worse, but it doesn’t make you a stutterer.

Unfortunately, in movies, shows, and books, there are other negative qualities associated with characters who stutter.

Q: How can they feel more comfortable talking?

A: We work with building confidence through practice and desensitization through coaching and calibrated exposure. In school, for example, for presentations, a student might do better with an accommodation of presenting only to the teacher rather than the whole class, or by recording the presentation. The goal will always be full participation, but sometimes temporary accommodation is helpful.

We are also fortunate in Speech and Hearing Sciences to have Joshua Breger (Clinical Assistant Professor at the College of Health Solutions and Director of the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic), who works with adults who stutter, and Dr. Ayoub Daliri, who conducts research on the neural processes of speech production during stuttered speech.

The first, last and most important thing is that a person’s message and what they have to say is the most important part of their communication. The way they say it is less important, whether it is fluid or incorporates disfluencies. Anyone can be a good listener for a person who stutters by patiently listening without interruption, not finishing a person’s sentences, maintaining natural eye contact, and focusing on the message being communicated.

The Stuttering Friends Group, to be held at ASU’s Speech and Hearing Sciences Pediatric Communication Clinic in the Community Services Building, 200 E. Curry Road, Tempe, is $180 and scholarships are available. For information, call 480-965-2373.

Top image courtesy of iStock

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