SLPs are in a unique position to help children who stutter deal with and manage bullying, yet many of us have not had any training in how to help.
In a study conducted by Patchin and Hinduja, 2020, 57% of tweens between the ages of 9 and 12 years old reported they had been bullied in one environment or another. Stopbullying.gov reported that about 20% of students nationwide ages 12-18 experienced bullying. Children who stutter are at an even higher risk of being the victims of bullying.
I’m honored to share a guest post on the very important topic of bullying written for us by Dr. J Scott Yaruss, Ph.D., CCC-SLP-F, F-ASHA
Dr. Yaruss has specialized in stuttering for more than 25 years as a clinician, teacher, and researcher. Having attended a wonderful training with Dr. Yaruss, I was interested in learning more about how SLPs can help children who stutter and are experiencing bullying. Better yet, how can we help prevent bullying of children who stutter, particularly in schools?
A huge thank you goes to Dr. Yaruss for his generosity in working to help SLPs learn more about stuttering and most importantly, how we can best help our students and clients who stutter.
Read this insightful post by Dr. Yaruss:
Bullying, Speech-Language Pathologists, and Children who Stutter
Bullying is a significant problem for children who stutter.
Not only does research confirm that children who stutter are more likely to be bullied than other children, but research also shows that bullying of children who stutter can affect both their communication and their overall well-being.
For example, being bullied makes people feel bad about themselves—and children who stutter are already at risk of negative self-reactions and self-stigma. Bullying can also lead to greater social isolation—and, again, children who stutter are already at risk of social isolation. Therefore, bullying is uniquely problematic for children who stutter.
Children who stutter are uniquely affected by bullying because it can be difficult for them to respond to the comments of bullies.
They are children who stutter, after all, and the types of verbal responses that are often encouraged by parents and other well-meaning adults simply may not be possible in the context of that emotionally charged moment when another child is saying mean things about their speech.
Because of the negative consequences of bullying, it is imperative that speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are well-prepared to reduce both the occurrence and the adverse impact of bullying for their students who stutter. Fortunately, there is much that we can do to help!
What is bullying, anyway?
Bullying involves any behavior in which one person tries to harm another person.
It typically takes the form of negative comments or actions that cause the person being bullied (often called, the “victim”) to feel bad. Note that bullying is different from teasing, which is a fun and enjoyable exchange between friends. Bullying behaviors are intended to control, to belittle, or to harm.
Examples of bullying include physical violence or intimidation (like beating a person up – or threatening to do so), social bullying (including hurtful comments), or relational bullying (such as excluding a person from social groups or interactions). These harmful actions can take place in person or virtually/online, as is the case with “cyberbullying.”
Interestingly, bullying involves more than just the bully and the victim.
The other children in a child’s environment (often called the “bystanders”) also play a role, for they can either be helpful (e.g., by standing up for the child who is being bullied) or they can compound the hurt (e.g., by going along with the bully and amplifying the negative comments.)
Regardless of how it happens or who is involved, the result of bullying is that the victim is made to feel bad. For children who may already feel bad about themselves, bullying presents heightened risks, and for that reason, we must take action when we see that children who stutter are experiencing bullying.
Bullying can lead to greater social isolation and children who stutter are already at risk.Dr. J. Scott Yaruss
How SLPs can help
There are several ways in which SLPs can play a valuable role in minimizing bullying of children who stutter:
First, we are uniquely situated to identify bullying when it occurs.
This is because we are the ones who are most likely to talk to children about their communication experiences.
Notably, even when children who stutter are being bullied, they may be reluctant to talk about their difficulties with other people. The reasons for this are numerous:
- They may not know what to say or do when someone is picking on them about their speech.
- They may think that the bully is actually correct in criticizing them about their speech because they already feel bad about stuttering and the bully’s comments simply confirm their worst fears.
- They may be embarrassed or ashamed about the fact that other children are picking on them.
- They may not think that any can be done to help them. .
Because SLPs take the time to talk with children about their feelings and thoughts (and not just about their observable stuttering behaviors), we can help to uncover difficult situations like bullying—and we can offer a sense of hope and optimism that children can face—and ultimately overcome—bullying.
Second, SLPs can provide the background knowledge that children need.
Because SLPs understand stuttering and everything that it can entail, we can provide the background knowledge that children need in order to reduce their negative reactions to themselves and their stuttering.
This provides the foundation for them to be able to directly face and minimize the occurrence and impact of bullying in their lives.
Third, as authorities on human communication, SLPs are uniquely suited to educate other people in a child’s environment.
This includes parents and teachers and even the child’s peers. SLPs can educate them about how to create a supportive environment that reduces the likelihood of bullying and supports the child in communicating easily and effectively.
A 6-step plan for minimizing bullying
There are many specific steps that SLPs can take to minimize bullying for their students who stutter. The following are actions drawn from a comprehensive anti-bullying plan developed specifically for children who stutter (Murphy et al., 2013):
Educate the child about stuttering:
One of the first and most important steps in therapy for children who stutter is to ensure that they understand what stuttering is—and what it is not. This typically involves providing fundamental background education about the speech production process and about stuttering.
Until children understand more about stuttering, they will not be prepared to make changes in their speech or in their attitudes toward stuttering. Such preparation is also necessary for helping the child cope with bullying, for it provides the background they need for reducing self-stigma and for educating their peers (bystanders).
Educate the child about bullying:
Although everyone knows generally what bullying is, there is also much that they do not know. For example, children who stutter may not know that bullying is different from teasing. This can especially be true when other people laugh at the comments that a bully makes about their speech. Children who stutter may presume that everyone else is having fun, so they should too, but this is not the case!
SLPs can teach children that bullying is never acceptable, that they do not have to tolerate or accept bullying, and that they can do something proactive to change the situation. This helps them learn that they can take steps to reduce the occurrence of bullying in their own lives.
Help children learn to respond differently to their stuttering:
Stuttering can be a frightening and frustrating experience.
Another of the key components of stuttering therapy involves helping children learn to think differently about stuttering so that it does not cause them to feel as scared or as bad about themselves. This is fundamental for helping children overcome the problem of bullying, for bullies crave the negative responses they get from other people when they make their hurtful comments.
If children who stutter can learn to feel less negatively about their stuttering, then they will be less likely to respond negatively when other people make comments about their speech.
Help children learn to respond differently to bullying:
As noted above, bullies crave the negative responses they get from their victims, but what if they didn’t get those negative responses? What if children who stutter could respond to bullying with neutral comments that reflect that stuttering (and, by extension, bullying) doesn’t bother them? This is the next critical step of the anti-bullying process: teaching children how to respond in a way that diminishes the likelihood of further bullying.
Because children who stutter experience communication difficulties, this can be hard to do, but as children learn to provide simple, matter-of-fact, nonchalant responses to bullying, this can ultimately reduce the likelihood that bullies will continue to make negative comments about stuttering.
Educate peers and other bystanders about stuttering and bullying:
Most children do not wish to cause harm to the child who stutters. Instead, bystanders often “go along with” the bully simply because they don’t know any better.
If they can learn more about what stuttering is (so that they understand that it is not something to be made fun of) and what bullying is (so that they understand that it is never acceptable), this can help to reduce the likelihood that they will make the situation worse by supporting the bully rather than the child who stutters.
Classroom presentations about stuttering and disclosure activities –fundamental aspects of stuttering therapy—can go a long way toward helping children create a supportive environment for themselves at school and in other settings.
Educate parents, teachers, and school administrators about stuttering and bullying:
Certainly, adults in a child’s life want to help to reduce bullying. The problem is that they often don’t know what to do or the most helpful way to do it. In part, this stems from their lack of understanding of stuttering, and in part, this stems from the fact that most bullying management programs don’t account for the unique needs of children with communication difficulties like stuttering.
Educating parents, teachers, and administrators about both stuttering and bullying can support the creation of a supportive environment in which everyone in a child’s life knows these two most important facts: it is okay to stutter, and it is not okay to bully.
For more information
Stuttering Therapy Resources, Inc., publishes a comprehensive bullying management treatment program based on the information presented above. The program includes 4 components:
- A guidebook for SLPs that includes instructions for all of the components of therapy described above (including forms, worksheets, and explanations) and much more
- A workbook for students that provides them with the forms and activity sheets that they need to participate actively in the therapy process
- A workbook for parents to help them learn more about stuttering, so that they can become active partners in helping their children develop their self-esteem and resilience to bullying
- A workbook for classroom teachers and school administrators to help them learn how to adapt their existing bullying management programs to account for the unique needs of children with communication difficulties.
You can find the Minimizing Bullying program, as well as numerous free handouts and videos about bullying, on the web at www.StutteringTherapyResources.com.
Follow stuttering therapy resources:
You can make a real difference!
Speech-language pathologists can make a real difference in the lives of children who stutter and are experiencing bullying.
By providing information about bullying and stuttering, we can help children face their fears about stuttering and reduce their negative reactions to stuttering. We can support them as they develop appropriate reactions to bullying, and we can educate the people in the child’s environment so that they can provide a network of support. By doing this, we can help children overcome both the occurrence and impact of bullying.
You can do it, and the materials available from Stuttering Therapy Resources can help!