Being a parent of a child who stutters – Part 2 by Veronica Lynch

In the last post, Veronica Lynch, former Chairperson and Board Member of ISA, spoke about her daughter’s experiences of stammering in school. Veronica is also a person who stammers and discusses the fears she experienced of her daughter going through primary school and the accompanying challenges.

The Secondary school years

This was when my fear and worry about my daughter went into overdrive. Even though I had seen how well she lived with stuttering I still had all the same worries as when she started Primary School. She on the other hand was convinced that Secondary School would be fine and was very excited to start. For the summer before she started I wanted to talk regularly about how she would cope when in fact I really wanted to figure out how I would cope. I had to recognise that it was more empowering for her if she figured things out herself than if I tried to ‘fix’ things for her. With the support of her Speech and Language Therapist (SLT), she began to find out what helped her negotiate secondary school, I took much more of a backseat but she knew I was always there to help her figure things out. With her agreement I contacted her Year Head in advance to tell her that my daughter stammered. On her first day I introduced my daughter to the Year Head who reassured her that she would be a support to my daughter if she encountered any difficulties in school around her speech. In 1st Year my daughter gave each of her teachers a note to say she stammered and sometimes speaking in class was difficult but if she was given time and understanding it would be fine. This was a practice she continued throughout Secondary School whenever she had a new teacher. This reduced her anxiety about her teachers finding out she stuttered, it allowed her to agree with each teacher about class participation and it gave her control in how she was treated. With her agreement I spoke to her teachers at the Parent/Teacher meetings about the impact her stammering was having on her work and discussed how best to approach that. I encouraged her to make oral presentations but to also discuss with her teacher on what terms she could opt in or out of a presentation. She continued to work with an SLT on and off during Secondary School and a lot of that work was in building confidence about her speaking abilities, learning and practicing techniques to help make stuttering easier and problem solving how to handle different situations. She also continued being involved in ISA activities such as Summer camps, drama workshops and Presentation Skills workshops. She found Secondary School a very positive experience; she made lots of friends throughout her five years there. I saw her grow in confidence in her ability to communicate well despite the fact that she stammers.

A special word about Leaving Cert Orals: Orals are a huge concern for young people who stutter and for their parents. It is not possible to get an exemption from Oral exams because of stammering but certain accommodation can be made. The student’s language teacher can arrange for the student to have a longer time for their Oral exam. They can also arrange for the student to be the first in line to take the examination on the day. This can help to reduce anticipatory anxiety for the student I found that the language teachers were more than happy to spend a bit of extra time preparing my daughter for her Oral exams. Students should be encouraged to prepare well for their Oral exams; being prepared can help reduce worry. In my daughter’s case her language teacher introduced her to the exam supervisor on the day of the Orals who reassured her that she would be given a fair chance at the exam If Leaving Cert Orals are a concern speak to the class teacher or language teacher early in 6th year. Involve your child in deciding how best to support him/her through the Orals.

DARE scheme – Disability Access Route to Education The DARE scheme is available to Leaving Cert students who feel that they have a disability that may have had a negative impact on their second level education. Through this scheme students may be able to access to Third Level course places with a reduced points level. Stammering is one of the disabilities that is eligible for consideration under the DARE scheme. Under this scheme the colleges who participate in the scheme must provide supports, as necessary, for students that have been accepted under the scheme. Although the rules for the scheme may change from year to year it is likely that the student will have to supply the following Evidence of the disability criteria e.g. a report from the students Speech and Language Therapist. Evidence of educational impact criteria e.g. a report from language teachers or other teachers that their stammer has impacted on their performance at school. A personal account by the student of the impact that their stammer has had on their school life. More detailed information is available on the following websites www. qualifax.ie or www.accesscollege.ie or www.cao.ie The Careers Guidance Counsellor in school will be able to supply information and offer help with the application process and it is worth discussing this with him/her.

In Summary: To conclude I’d like to reflect on the key things I have learned about being a parent of the young person who stutters; Stammering is only one aspect of my child and I should not define her by her stammer and she should not let her stammer define her. Keeping my child talking and listening to what she has to say and not how she says it are vital for her to maintain confidence in her ability to communicate and talk. Being involved with the stammering community through Irish Stammering Association and Speech and Language Therapy reduces the feeling of isolation as a parent and as a child and is a huge support in difficult times. Stuttering can be hard but it does not have to be limiting. People who stammer come from all walks of life including public life, media and the full range of occupations.