Many parents tend to believe that it is their fault their child has speech difficulties, but The British Stammering Association is quick to reassure parents otherwise. In order to help your child overcome speech difficulties it is recommended to refer them to a speech therapist as soon as possible, for more help on this contact your health visitor or visit your local Children’s Centre. Most of the time speech difficulties such as stammering disappear over time however, getting them referred in the early stages will help them in the long run. An estimated 68 million people have a stammer, however it is more common in younger children who tend to overcome it through effective early years intervention.
Alongside a speech therapist there are also steps nursery practitioners can carry out in order to help a child get through this developmental stage. Additionally, the more these children are supported to overcome these difficulties the more confident they become, therefore making them want to communicate and tackle their difficulties with speech. Ways in which practitioners can help children are through making conversation with them in circle time, interacting with them, using props to support play and ensuring other children do not make fun or imitate them. Children with a stammer need to be given the opportunities to interact with others and practitioners can help the child achieve this.
Cherry Hughes, education officer at The British Stammering Association said: “A choice of responses should be given to all the pupils, for example, speaking a personal response if they wish, or raising a hand. The child who stammers, knowing that he need not answer in a set manner may choose to do so without stress”. If a child is too embarrassed, there is additional support that can be put in place should the child feel unable to speak. Using cards with a picture on, for example a toilet sign, this will allow the child to ask the staff without fear of embarrassment.
Patience is a virtue, this goes for practitioners dealing with a child who has speech difficulties. The child should feel comfortable to finish a sentence no matter how long it takes them without interruption from any other child or staff. An interruption may dishearten the child, making them not want to communicate. Children need full attention, so practitioners can help by keeping eye contact and taking a patient approach, not by carrying out other tasks and talking to other children.
Ms Hughes said: “The aim is to build the child’s confidence in participating and to work with the parents and the therapist to overcome the stammer”.
Penny Tassoni, president of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) said: “Practitioners should increase interaction with a child with a stammer and measure the frequency and level of frustration, noticing if they become aware of it”.
Practitioners should always respond to a child with speech difficulties, and work with them to understand what it is they are trying to say. Being observant and interested in what a child says will help them know what they are saying is important. Using their name frequently will also make them feel appreciated and can help them cope with their stammer.
Many teachers tend to ask children in a classroom questions such as ‘who knows what the weather is like today?’ however, for a child with speech difficulties this can seem very daunting. The Stammering Association, and backed up by PACEY’s recommend not to use competition and to “Make questions a pressure free zone and encourage children to speak”.
Ms Tassoni says she is “not a fan of circle time in large groups” as it creates pressure for children with a stammer when they have to talk in front of many other children. It is better to give a child time to answer it and in their own time.
Sometimes a child may want to talk about their speech difficulties but not through verbal communication. Practitioners need to take this into account and use one to one sessions to allow the child to express themselves. The body language and actions of practitioners working in a nursery, is an important form of communication especially with children who have speech difficulties. Getting down to the child’s level and slowing speech should be adapted by all adults when talking to children with stammers, this should also be carried out during everyday practice with all ages of children. Non-verbal communication such as body language will help the child feel comfortable and valued by an adult.
Parents may also benefit from these tips as in a home setting the child may still feel embarrassed at times especially if siblings intimidate them.
A child with speech difficulties needs to be shown patience from everyone, other children and family members and also a referral to a speech and language therapist will provide great support for the child and their family.
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