Teens. Do you have a plan to disclose your stutter to your teachers? Why is this form of self-advocacy so important?
“Won’t the teachers figure out I stutter anyway?”
Yes, they will figure it out anyway. But, it might take a while. Picture this scenario…Your teacher doesn’t know you stutter. You haven’t stuttered in class yet. Your teacher asks a question. You know the answer. You raise your hand. You are called on. You get stuck on a block. No words come out, but you know the answer. You want your teacher to know you know the answer. But still, you cannot get your word out. Your teacher and classmates are looking at you. You start to feel time pressure and nothing comes out. The teacher moves on. She calls on a classmate with their hand up. Your classmate answers. You feel defeated, deflated and down-right frustrated. The teacher thinks you do not know the answer. Does this encourage you to raise your hand again?
Now picture a different scenario…You let your teacher know you stutter and that it sometimes takes a little longer for you to speak. You haven’t stuttered in class yet. Your teacher asks a question. You know the answer. You raise your hand. You are called on. You get stuck on a block. No words come out, but you know the answer. You want your teacher to know you know the answer. But still, you cannot get your word out. Your teacher and classmates are looking at you. You remember your teacher knows you stutter and she has been informed to wait a little longer when you stutter. Your teacher waits. Your classmates wait. You answer the question stuttering. The teacher responds affirming your answer is correct, nods and moves on with her lecture. You feel good you were able to answer the question. You might feel frustrated you stuttered, but your teacher knows you knew the answer and are able to participate in class. Does this encourage you to raise your hand again? More likely than the first scenario.
“Shouldn’t the teachers already know I stutter and how to respond if I get stuck in the first place?”
Not necessarily. If there is a block, it may just seem like an extended pause. They can interpret it in many ways…the student is nervous, the student doesn’t really know the answer, the student is disrupting the class, the student stutters. The teacher will react to you differently based on what they interpret. If they interpret you are nervous, they may call on you less. They may treat you with less confidence. They may peg you as an anxious person. If they interpret it as disrupting the class, they may feel you are being disrespectful to the teacher and your classmates, forming a negative impression of your behavior. If they think you don’t know the answer, they may feel you need extra help learning new content. If they accurately interpret it as stuttering, they may have misguided assumptions and try to speak for you or encourage you to “slow down” or “take a deep breath”. When you actively tell the teacher about your stutter requesting patience as you answer questions, you take the guessing game out of the equation. You lessen the chances you will receive unsolicited advice about how you speak. Rather, the teacher’s response will more likely be about what you say (just like the rest of your classmates).
“So, I’ll just ask my parents to tell my teachers I stutter.”
You won’t be doing this in college or in a job interview, so start practicing now. It is always best for you to do this. You can write an email. Create a letter, print a bunch out and hand it to your teacher at the start of class. You can tell the teacher before class. Whatever you feel most comfortable with is just fine.
“What do I say/write?”
This is up to you. Each person who stutters would like to approach public speaking in a different way and have different comfort levels with public speaking. Therefore, you are the best person to know what you feel comfortable with. However, speech therapy can help you learn where you are along the comfort continuum and allow you to discover what helps you in different settings. Therapy can push you just slightly beyond your comfort level to help guide you into becoming a strong and confident communicator. Self-advocacy, such as disclosure, is just one of the many components of a well-rounded speech therapy plan for a teen who stutters.