WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A new book from a Purdue University speech-language pathologist says more needs to be done to address the bullying that often results in more anxiety for children who stutter than the speech disorder itself.
"Working on techniques to cope with stuttering are not enough because children's hurt feelings are getting in the way," said William Murphy, who has worked for more than two decades on developing speech therapy at Purdue's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts. "Even the children who receive therapy to help them live with stuttering continue to have negative feelings as they grow older. Their ability to communicate is still hindered by the shame and embarrassment they feel about stuttering, which is often brought on from bullying and teasing."
Murphy, whose recent publications and presentations focus on the role of shame and guilt in stuttering, teamed with two other speech-language pathologists – J. Scott Yaruss from the University of Pittsburgh and Robert W. Quesal from Western Illinois University – to co-write "Bullying and Teasing: Helping Children who Stutter." Nina A. Reardon, a specialist in fluency disorders in private practice in Illinois, also contributed.
The public school system is usually responsible for providing the majority of speech-therapy services for children who stutter, Murphy said.
"However, most public schools' resources are stretched, and children may not receive the kind of individual services that would be best," he said. "In addition, the anxiety children have about stuttering may be overlooked, especially in large-group therapy settings."
Parents can help by talking to their children about bullying behavior. The "Dos" for parents, outlined in the book, include working with the child to develop a plan for handling a bully. Then, parents can practice with the child on how to talk to a bully or help children remember to leave to find a group of friends or stay close to a teacher or other adult.
Parents often make the mistake of telling children to ignore bullies or fight back.
"Children really can't ignore a bully because what they say bothers them too much," Murphy said. "Fighting back really doesn't address the problem and is more likely to result in more problems with the bully."
Teachers also can learn how to make stuttering an open topic of discussion in classrooms. Murphy visits classrooms to talk with students about what stuttering is and about some famous people, such as James Earl Jones and Winston Churchill, who stuttered as children.
One exercise he does with the schoolchildren may be surprising.
"The best part is when a stuttering child teaches his or her classmates how to stutter," Murphy said.
The 110-page book ($8) was funded and published last month by the National Stuttering Association, which is the world's largest self-help group for people who stutter. There are sections in the book for parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists and children who stutter. The book can be purchased from the National Stuttering Association by calling (800) 937-8888 or visiting the cataglog web site.
Stuttering, which is characterized by sound repetition, long pauses or a speech block while attempting to say a word, affects about 5 percent of preschoolers and about 1 percent of the adult population. Disruptions from stuttering can vary in a person's speech. In some cases stuttering may happen infrequently, and it can prevent others from participating in daily conversations.
"Everyone knows someone who stutters, and everyone thinks they know how to fix it," said Murphy, who also collaborates on research in Purdue's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences that looks at brain activity when people stutter. "They think it's as easy as 'If only the person would just relax and take it easy,' but that's not what stuttering is."
Stuttering is thought to be a complex combination of biology and faulty speech learning, Murphy said. It is diagnosed when a child has been stuttering consistently for six months to a year. Family history is a factor, and boys tend to stutter more than girls.
Approximately 70 percent of preschool children outgrow stuttering, and with early therapy the recovery rate is even higher. School-age children and adults are rarely cured. However, speech pathologists can help these people to dramatically reduce the severity of their stuttering and help them to make talking more enjoyable.
"There really is not a publication like this available for the general public," said Tammy Flores, National Stuttering Association director of operations. "We constantly hear stories about how children are bullied because of their stuttering, and our adult members talk about how hard teasing made it for them to do the things they wanted. Research supports the fact that children who stutter are more likely to be bullied than other children, and even worse, they are bullied more often."
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