Parenting Stutterers

Working with school-aged students who stutter, I find parents have lots of questions about how to parent their child who stutters. The Stuttering Foundation has a wonderful book, Stuttering and Your Child: Questions and Answers that I highly recommend to parents and teachers.  This book is available in paperback form and on e-readers.

A common question asked is, "Why does my child stutter?" The answer: no one knows why. The book points out that we usually want to know why something happens so we can eliminate the cause and stop the stuttering. Unfortunately, this is not possible.  Some think imitating stutterers will cause stuttering. This is a myth - most stutterers begin stuttering on their own without having heard someone else stutter. There are genetic dispositions to stuttering. You may know of another family member who stutters. Most importantly,

Parents should not blame themselves for their child's stuttering.

The way you raise your child has little to do with why your child stutterers. But, there are things you can do to help your child.

Suggestions for Parents
You can change some of the ways you do things at home to help your child. Too often family members try to finish her sentences, interrupt while she is talking, or encourage a fast rate of speech. To help your child, consider these suggestions to parents from Dr. Richard Curlee:

1) Accept your child. Find ways to show your child that you love and value her, and you enjoy spending time with her.

2) Listen patiently. Respond to the "message" rather than how it is relayed.

3) Avoid filling in or speaking your child's thoughts and ideas. Her thoughts and ideas should be her own.

4) Maintain natural eye contact. Don't look away or stare at your child while she is talking.

5) Don't interrupt - allow your child to complete what she is saying.

6) Spend 5 minutes a day devoted to listening and talking with your child in a relaxed manner.

7) After your child speaks use some of the same words she did, but in a relaxed way. By doing this you will be modeling a good speech pattern.

8) Pause at least one second before reponding to your child. Don't hurry the response.

You should know...

  • More boys than girls stutter (4:1)
  • 3 million Americans stutter and 68 million people world-wide stutter
  • 5% of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts 6 months
  • 3/4 of children who stutter will recover by late childhood 
  • 1% of children who begin stuttering, continue to stutter
  • If your child stutters, see a speech-language pathologist who specializes in stuttering right away.
  • Early intervention is the key to treating children who stutter
  • There are no miracle cures for stuttering, but progress can be made.
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Storytelling (Narrrative) Practice

Storytelling is ultimately a creative act of pattern recognition. Through characters, plot and setting, a writer creates places where previously invisible truths become visible. Or the storyteller posits a series of dots that the reader can connect. - Douglas Coupland

In our "Storytelling and Language-Learning Differences" post, we discussed the "recipe" or pattern
for telling a story: 

Usual events + Unusual events + Problem(s)
+ Solution(s) + Ending = Narrative

With all new skills learned, there has to be a time of
practice that allows the student to perfect their technique and adapt it to a
variety of narratives. Take the pattern for storytelling and
have some fun with it.

Toys and Pictures
One way to
practice other than just creating stories aloud, is to use toys such as Legos
or Polly Pockets (really any figurines) and create a scene from each part of the
story. Using an iPad or camera to either take pictures of
the story is fun. Print them out or send them to the students' parents so they can practice telling the story at home.
Create Books

There's no better reward for a student who created a story
than to see it in print. Books can be low tech with craft supplies and paper or
high tech using a tablet or computer. Check out's website for
apps that let student's create their stories on iPads (


Videos are my new favorite way students can practice their
narrative skills. iMovie on the iPad is a great way to make a video and if you
don't know how to do it, your students can most likely show you. My new
favorite app is Toontastic. Try it for free with Toontastic Jr. - I used their
pirate app. We quickly graduated to Toontastic where you can buy unlimited
settings, characters, etc. for $9.99. Students are pattern of storytelling and use each step to create their movie with moveable
cartoon characters, lots of settings (backgrounds) and music. I sit with my
student while they make decisions and guide them in creating their story. I write
while they dictate and then one of us reads the story after making each section
of the movie. They can add credits and a title. Upload the movie to YouTube*
and their family can watch it at home. Many of my students have been using
Toontastic at home honing their narrative skills. Check out one of my students'

*If you have a gmail account, you have a YouTube account.
If you don't have a gmail account, it's easy to sign up with Google.

Storytelling and Language-learning Differences

A writer's brain is like a magician's hat. If you are going get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first. - Louis L'Amour

So often students with language-learning differences have difficulties with narratives, a.k.a. stories. One 7th grader I tested recently was asked to tell me an original story. This is what he said: 

There was a boy. He walked into town and couldn't find his family. He went into someone's house and they adopted him. The end.

His story took less than 20 seconds to tell. It included a character, a problem, and a solution, but there was so much more the listener would want to know. Where did the boy come from? Why was he walking? What did his family look like? How did he end up at a house and who did it belong to?

Difficulty with storytelling affects not only the ability to "tell" a story, but also the ability to write a story. Students cannot write creative stories unless they are first able to say them aloud. Several factors should be considered in storytelling for students.

1. The Recipe
Most students need the steps or need a "recipe" for how to tell a story.  They struggle to get started and organize their story without a road map. Here's how I lay out the process for students:

a.  Begin with the USUAL events for the main character. What do they do everyday? 
b.  Now what UNUSUAL event occurs in the story?
c.  The PROBLEM is next - what conflict is the main character having?
d.  The SOLUTION - how does the main character resolve the issue?
e.   An ENDING - a good story has to have a good ending to tie up loose ends.

As students get better with their story telling abilities, they will feel more confident about adding multiple problems and solutions.

2.  It's on the Tip of My Tongue
Difficulty recalling words needed in a story can affect a student's ability to create an original story.  As we get older, we tend to have word finding issues - what was I looking for? What is her name? What is the  name of that "thing" I am looking for? In children this difficulty can be particularly debilitating. Inability to recall a specific word can frustrate students to the point that they "give up" and clam up. Create a word bank for all the words they might use in a story, to reduce frustration with word retrieval and to help the planning process go more smoothly.

3. How to Start
Coming up with characters and settings can be daunting, so take it one step at a time. Use Rory's Story Cubes or Blue Oranges' Tell Tale cards to help the student think of a character they can write about, choose a setting and come up with story ideas.

4. Practice on Fairy Tales
Before I work on original narratives with children, we practice on fairy tales. Find one both you and the student know, such as The Three Little Pigs, and break it down:

a. USUAL events - The pigs lived with their mother and were very happy.
b. UNUSUAL events - Mom wanted the pigs to learn how to live on their own, so they set out into the world.
c. PROBLEMS - a pesky wolf wanted to eat them, their houses were not built well, and the wolf was coming down the chimney
d. SOLUTIONS - run to a brother's house, light a fire in the chimney, and build a better house in the future.
e. ENDING - the wolf's rear end was on fire and decided to high-tail it out of there (pun intended) and the lesson learned - take your time and do it right.

5. Be Creative
If you love drama, act out the stories with your student. If you are artistic, draw the stories using various mediums (marker, crayon, paints, etc.). If you are a techno-nerd (like me), use the iPad to create a story adding fun characters, interesting backdrops.

In the next post on Storytelling, I'll give you some ideas about tablet apps that can help you create fascinating stories that will engage them and add some fun to the writing process.

Sharing the Road - Roadmap for Conversation Skills (Part 3)

We promised more on conversational skills...

Once the student understands the visual template of the conversational road, with the Question and Comments on my side, and the Answers on his side of the road, I discuss how the "awkward silence" is there because he didn't yet take over the control-car.  I explain that, often well-meaning adults will fill in the awkwardness by asking endless questions. In my practice, most students recognize that this happens to them. They want to understand what can be done to avoid this, as it is not particularly enjoyable.  The next part of our intervention focuses on analyzing conversations which do not have awkward silences.  

I explain (or we watch film clips and analyze them together) that "good
conversationalists" tend to have a sense of a balanced, fair
conversation.  We start with the formula of each person engaging in one round each of Question, Answer, Comment-Question.  Although this is a basic, almost "formulaic"
approach, it allows the student to learn a foundation upon which more complex
and deep conversations can occur (conversations that include expansion and sharing deeper information.)  I find this initial step requires much
practice, before the more nuanced work can begin.  We look at a basic,
"good conversation" and analyze what is happening.  We discuss
who is saying what, who is moving the conversation forward, who is
"driving" and who is responding/going along for the ride.  

initiator will ask a series of questions, and make polite comments for about
three turns, then he/she just senses it is time to allow the other person to
"take the wheel."  The clued-in conversational partner will
often switch to the role of asking questions about the first person's interest,
making comments.  For example:

A: How was your weekend?
     B: Good, I watched a great
A: Cool, what was it?
    B: Captain America.
A: I saw that!  What was your favorite part?
    B: I really liked the fight
scenes--the part where he saves his old friend was pretty cool.
A: Yeah, the special effects were awesome. 
Who did you go with?
   B: John and Brian.
A: Sounds fun.
    B: Did you do anything fun this
A: Nah, not really.  I had to help my mom
clean the basement.
    B: Man, that stinks.  How
long did you have to help?
A: All day Saturday.  At least I earned some
money helping.
    B: Seriously!  All I did
was spend money this weekend.  Are you going to get to do something this
A: I don't have plans, you want to come over? 
I got a cool new game.
    B: Yeah, let me ask my mom...I
gotta go, talk to ya later.
A: Okay, see ya.

is not unusual for students with social-pragmatic deficits to have
difficulty asking questions when they are not truly interested in the
topic at hand, and students with language impairments may find sentence
formulation difficult, so we must practice these skills overtly.  We
brainstorm and write down a list of Wh-questions:

who, what, when, where, why, how, how much, how many...

we extensively practice various questions that would keep our conversation/drive going
in a common direction without whiplash and without closing the road.  We practice this on a variety of topics, such as past or future vacations, weeks, weekends, events etc.

week, I will share the next phase--going deeper by asking questions AND sharing.