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David Baxter PhD

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Stuttering Kids Need Help to Cope with Bullying
Fri Jan 21, 2005
By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents and teachers need to do more to help kids who stutter deal with any bullying or teasing, according to a speech pathologist.

William Murphy of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, reasons that stuttering kids who are teased may find it even more difficult to say what's on their mind, because their hurt feelings are getting in the way.

Moreover, children who stutter may have a harder time coping with bullying itself, since they sometimes can't use words to respond to jeers and jabs. "The children know what they want to say, they just can't get it out quickly enough," said Tammy Flores of the National Stuttering Association.

Teasing may be particularly hard on stuttering kids if they have any other qualities that make them stand out, Flores noted. A kid who stutters and also has glasses or freckles, for instance, faces a "double whammy," she said.

An estimated 5 percent of preschoolers and 1 percent of adults stutter. Although most preschoolers outgrow the speech impediment, this rarely happens once a child gets older.

In general, public schools provide most of the help for children who stutter, Murphy said in a statement. However, in many cases, public schools' budgets are stretched tight, and they may not be able to give kids all the help they need, he noted.

In Murphy's new book, Bullying and Teasing: Helping Children who Stutter, funded and published last month by the National Stuttering Association, he provides tips for parents and teachers on how to talk to children who stutter about bullying from other children.

For parents, Murphy recommends:
  • Bring up the topic of bullying.
  • Devise a plan for how to handle bullying.
  • Then, practice the plan through role-playing.
  • Remind children to stay in a group of friends or close to a teacher or other adult. "Teachers can stop something that's happening right in front of them," Flores noted.
Murphy noted that in general, it's pointless for parents to tell kids to ignore a bully. "It's kind of hard to ignore someone who's bullying you," Flores told Reuters Health in an interview.

Fighting back rarely works either, and may just worsen the situation, he added.

For teachers, Murphy suggests making stuttering a topic of classroom discussion, and mentioning famous people who stuttered as children, such as James Earl Jones and Winston Churchill.
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