Stuttering and bullying: giving them a voice_
This resource is supported by Cody Packer, a commercial film director and person who stutters. Cody focuses on telling raw, human stories that matter and has created a powerful video on stuttering.
Our definition of bullying behaviour at The Diana Award_
"repeated, negative behaviour that is intended to make someone feel upset, uncomfortable and unsafe".
Bullying & Stuttering (also known as stammering)_
A huge problem for young people who stutter is not having their voice heard or feeling like they don’t have the time to say what they need to say. We encourage everyone to raise awareness of stuttering and the need to allow every young person to feel like they have a voice and as much time as they need to express themselves.
Facts on Stuttering (National Stuttering Association, 2020)_
- Stuttering usually starts at age 2-5 years old
- Approximately 1% of people stutter beyond childhood
- Approximately 5% of young people go through a time of stuttering
- Up to 80% of young people starting to stutter ultimately stop at some point
- Stuttering can vary from individual to individual and day to day for one person
Some Do’s and Don’ts.
From Cody’s experience of having a stutter during his time at school, we have collected some Do’s and Don’ts when encountering a young person with a stutter.
1. Do avoid language like ‘slow down’, ‘breathe’, or finishing their sentence for them. Instead, give them the time to finish their sentence and remain patient.
2. Do avoid body language such as looking around or at your watch, which suggests you are inpatient for them to finish. Instead, keep your body language open and your facial expression friendly.
3. Do not laugh, snigger, or whisper when someone is stuttering.
4. Do be patient, maintain eye contact and nod along, even when the person is stuttering.
5. Do allow the person stuttering to try to say what they would like to say and try not to fill in the pauses or silences.
6. Do show you are listening by nodding, summarising after they have finished and showing active listening.
Support for young people with stutters from others is vital to ensuring they feel supported. This is particularly important from teachers and parents/carers. Even though they may feel like small gestures, they go such a long way.
We have provided a step by step approach for supporting someone in your class with a stutter. The Diana Award believes every young person has a voice and can use their voice to change the world. Young people with a stutter can often feel like they do not have a voice which is why it’s so important to follow these steps in your school.
“People who stutter have the same things to say as everyone else; they sometimes just take a little longer to say it.”
Step 1- Educate yourself.
Do some research on stuttering and what the young person’s personal experience of stuttering has been. Don’t be afraid to ask questions but also be mindful that some people who stutter might not be comfortable talking as openly about it and that is okay. Stuttering can look different from individual to individual and being aware of this is key. You should also encourage students to understand, to get to know what stuttering is and what it looks like.
Step 2- Work with the young person.
Work with the young person on how they would like to be addressed in class, if they feel comfortable answering questions in front of everyone and if there is anything you can do to support them. Do this in private, since it can be a source of shame or a trigger to have it be spoken about in front of other people. Sometimes checking in before or after class about how they are doing and allowing them to express themselves how they want will help.
Step 3- Create an environment where they won’t feel judged.
It is important for someone who has a stutter to have a space where they feel they won’t be judged and have permission to be themselves. With stuttering, communication can be hard and this may lead to them feeling isolated, alone and misunderstood. They require patience, consideration and the space to have a voice.
Step 4- Raise awareness.
Education and awareness of stuttering in your school will help. Create a school environment where laughing at someone because of their stutter is not acceptable and is dealt with accordingly. Like any type of bullying behaviour, it can make the young person feel ashamed, alone and isolated. It is important that the young person feels heard and understood. Allow them to speak and don’t interrupt them. Allow them time and discuss what support they would like whilst at school.
“Children and young people who stutter need to be met with the same amount of love and compassion on a day they might be struggling a little more, to their perceived easier days" - Cody Packer
All parents/carers want for their children is to feel supported and loved. It is important for a young person who stutters to feel like they have a trusting support network around them to turn to whenever they need. This can look like someone who listens without judgment, is patient in giving their child as much time as they want to communicate what they need and is open to discussing feelings and emotions - not avoiding them.
Understanding that they are going to have ups and downs and supporting them equally on their harder and easier days can be extremely comforting. Empower young people to suggest their own ways forward and work together to find them support when they need it.
If you are a parent/carer and have a child who stutters, there is plenty of further support and organisations that can help. When making these decisions or reaching out for support, it is important to consult with the child to see what they are comfortable with. Allow them to feel empowered in making their own choice of support and what works best for them.
"Stuttering support is not one size fits all. It will also look different for you based on your age, wants and needs. Community and support is the most healing thing I have encountered on my journey so far. It is a strength, not a weakness" - Cody Packer
Support for stuttering is broad which means it can be hard to navigate. One option focuses on supporting the person with a stutter to become a more fluent speaker. Other more holistic approaches consider the wider environment and focus on acceptance and non- judgement. There are support groups where you can meet other families and young people who stutter. We have included some of these below:
- ELSA (European Leagues of Stuttering Associations) is an organisation with the mission to ‘provide an open forum for exchange of extensive and thought-provoking information on stuttering’. http://www.isastutter.org/elsa
- STAMMA provides support on different therapy and courses for parents. They also provide different models of support in education, at work and the law, on apps and devices and everyday tips. https://stamma.org/get-support
- The Stuttering Foundation has several resources and blogs available, including on how to create safe schools for young people who stutter. https://www.stutteringhelp.org/
- Camp SAY provides resources for young people who stutter, no matter their age or background. Their yearly camp for young people who stutter empowers young people to find their voice. https://www.campsay.org/