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Special Education Articles: Speech and Language Articles: Stuttering and Teasing

Stuttering and Teasing

Author - Gail Wilson Lew, M.A. C.C.C.

What do you do when your child tells you he was teased at school for his stuttering? Your first reaction might be to enroll him in a karate class! But, fighting back may not be the wisest response because it may only make matters worse. Growing up as a tomboy, my father encouraged me to beat up anyone that teased me when I stuttered. My father constantly recited, "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you". He did the best he could, but the words did hurt me. I wish he had sat me down and talked about the issue of teasing and why people tease others.

The first thing a parent can do is sit down with his child and talk about teasing. Many times children who stutter think they are the only ones in the whole wide world that get teased. Parents need to talk about their own experiences growing up, and how they themselves may have been teased . Remember, youngsters sometimes forget parents were kids once, too! If you weren't teased, maybe you can talk about other people who had been teased because they were too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, or too shy, etc.

The next thing that needs to be discussed is why children tease. The person who teases may be trying to hurt someone because he wants to see someone suffer. Consequently, the more the person being teased cries or gets upset, the more the teaser is likely to continue his taunting.

Parents should also talk about the people who tease. The Teaser may be insecure. He may get picked on at home, either by parents or siblings. The Teaser usually teases because he has little self esteem. Sometimes children tease out of ignorance. It is not every day a child encounters another child that stutters. Children may laugh or make fun of a child who stutters because it is different or strange to them. Explaining about stuttering can defuse the situation.

The parent needs to teach his child to stand up and take action to counteract the teasing.

One day, in 9th grade Spanish class, the boy behind me started to pull on my pony tail. I did not want to turn around, because I was afraid I would get in trouble with the teacher. I was also reluctant to tell the teacher, because I would then have to speak up and explain: thus, the possibility of stuttering and embarrassment. The boy yanked so hard on my ponytail, I was on the verge of tears. However when I showed no emotion or reaction, he soon stopped. There was no pay off! This particular approach may not be suited for everyone.

Another effective way to learn how to deal with teasing is by using role-playing. By acting out real situations that may happen, your child is prepared to respond to the teaser. The parent plays the child who stutters. The child can role play the teaser. After your child feels comfortable, reverse roles.

Some Examples of Role Playing:

Situation 1- The Playground
The teaser asks a question to the other child, such as,
"What did you watch on TV last night?"
The child who stutters responds,
"I wa-wa-watched The B-B-B-Bill C-C-C-Cosby Sh-Sh-ow."
The teaser responds by laughing, saying, "Why do you talk funny?"
The stuttering child answers, "Sometimes I just get stuck on my words, and I c-c-c-can't help it."

Situation 2 - The Restaurant
A family is sits around the table. The waiter comes to the table and asks for your order.
The child says, "I w-w-w-want a ham b-b-burger."
The waiter responds, "W-W-What would you l-l-like to drink?"
The boy responds, "I don't l-l-like the w-w-w-ay you are m-m-making f-f-un
of my speech. I s-s-sometimes stutter. So what. I w-w-would like a coke p-p-p-please."
The waiter apologizes and promises not to ridicule again.

Situation 3 - The Encounter
Humor may be another avenue to stop ridicule. The teaser may be caught off guard when humor is used.
Teaser: "H -hey y -y -you. C-cat g -got your t- t- tongue?"
Child : "I -I-I--If you can't st-st-stutter better than that I'll have t-t-to g-g-g-ive you l-l-l-lessons."

The teacher plays a very important role in enforcing respect and courtesy in the classroom. If teasing occurs in the classroom, the teacher should be the one to stop it. In 4th grade, a boy teased me about my stuttering. My teacher made him apologize to me after school. He never made fun of me again.

It is also important that the teacher be educated about stuttering. Your child's teacher may never have had a child who stuttered in her classroom. She needs to understand the unique aspects of stuttering, too. The teacher may be a little uneasy because she does not know how to respond in a situation involving a stutterer. She may not know that stuttering is handled in a different manner than other speech disorders.

The National Stuttering Project ( 800-364-1677) has an excellent brochure titled, "What the Teacher Can Do To Help the Child Who Stutters." The brochure explains what stuttering is and gives helpful suggestions in working with a child that stutters.

A visit from the speech/language pathologist in your child's classroom can be very effective. A child who stutters does not want others to know that he stutters, because he does not want to be "different". He wants to be accepted. A lot of pressure may be lifted if a child lets people know that he stutters and does not try to hide it. One of the ways this may be accomplished, is by asking the speech/language pathologist to explain about stuttering to the class. It is important to obtain your child's approval first. He may not be ready for his speech/language pathologist to come his classroom.

One of my most memorable and rewarding experiences occured when my speech therapist visited my 7th grade English class. He talked about stuttering and how it was just something I did, not something I was. He brought a Delayed Auditory Machine (DAF) and had various classmates try it. (It can make a person stutter if they try to beat the delayed reaction to their speech.) I felt a brick had been lifted from my head. I no longer had to attempt to hide the fact that I stuttered. The children were also much more accepting of who I was, and my stuttering. I also felt very special because all of the attention was on me.

Some parents are at their wits end trying to stop siblings from teasing one another. It is important to sit down with the whole family and talk about stuttering and teasing. Siblings need to be educated about stuttering and understand how unkind it is to tease someone for something over which they have little control.

I met a mother who had a big problem with her older son teasing the younger one who stuttered. She sat down with the older son and explained that it was wrong to tease his brother about something he could not help. Despite the discussion and reprimands, the teasing continued. The teasing finally stopped after the family attended an annual workshop that I put on for children who stutter and their families. The older brother saw other children, as well as adults, that stuttered, in various degrees. It made him realize that it was not just a "my little brother thing." He learned that his brother actually had little control over his stuttering. The older brother is now much more patient and considerate around his younger brother.

Any form of teasing hurts those children more who already have low self-esteem. It is important for parents to help build their child's self-esteem. Encourage your child to participate in areas in which he excels such as sports, academics, music or, for the older children, chores or a part-time job. Sometimes, all your child needs is to know that you acknowledge his feelings and concerns. When something does happen at school, he knows you will listen to him.


Gail Wilson Lew received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Hardin-Simmons University and her Master of Arts Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Tennessee. She holds the Certificate of Clinical Competency in Speech Pathology from the American Speech/Language and Hearing Association, a License in Speech-Language Pathology from the State of California, and the Speech-Language Clinical Rehabilitative Credential. Gail has a private practice in Sierra Madre, CA specializing in stuttering. She also works part time for a school district and is the Director of the Adult Stuttering Clinic at California State University, Los Angeles. For the last 7 years, she and Dr. Vivian Sheehan have held several workshops for children who stutter and their families. She has had the opportunity to gain experience also with Dr. Charles Van Riper,Phd. (Pioneer and authority in Stuttering) and Dr. Carl Dell, Phd. author of "Treating the School Age Stutterer" from the Stuttering Foundation of America. She was on the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Project for three years and director of the Los Angeles support chapter for the last seven years. Gail has a keen insight into stuttering since she herself was once a severe stutterer.

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