STUDENT. A negative attitude to school can contribute to negative self-esteem in people who stutter. This is the finding from a degree thesis by two newly graduated speech therapists at Sahlgrenska Academy. The thesis also concludes that the lack of knowledge about stuttering by schools leads to negative treatment and self-critique.
For their thesis, the speech therapy students Grey Elin and Emelie Grönfors conducted longer interviews with six adults who stutter. These interviews were conducted individually and focused on experiences from school.
“Our analysis shows that negative treatment contributes to lower self-esteem and that several of the interviewees had felt badly during their school years. All of the interview subjects have more or less a fear of speaking, and their participation in school was limited,” says Elin Grey, who recently graduated from the speech therapy program at Sahlgrenska Academy.
Previous studies have shown that middle school children often have a negative view of children who stutter. They may see them as less extrovert, less confident and less competent than children who do not stutter. Research has also shown that children who stutter are more exposed to bullying and negative attitudes in school.
None of the six interviewees in the study had experienced physical violence because of their stuttering, but all had experienced negative treatment by their classmates. “Blatant teasing because of stuttering was something most of them had experienced, either frequently or occasionally. The participants who were not openly teased had experienced negative treatment in less direct forms, such as knowing glances, laughter and whispers. This negative treatment could have major consequences for self-esteem and could, for example, lead to avoiding social situations and giving presentations in front of the class,” says Emelie Grönfors, who wrote the thesis together with Elin.
The thesis also shows that a positive response from teachers had a positive impact on their school years and their view of themselves. Good relationships with teachers could contribute to increased satisfaction and interest in school.
“Support from teachers could be a preventive factor against the escalation of avoidance behavior and a negative approach. If self-confidence as a child was weak, it helped if a teacher emphasized that the student was competent,” says Elin Grey. “For one interviewee, a teacher’s actions meant that the person did not think about their stuttering up to fifth grade, because the teacher did not highlight it as something abnormal. Another interviewee, who did not attend school in eighth and ninth grades, was encouraged by a teacher to study at home and was also given the opportunity to take written instead of oral tests. It was thanks to a committed teacher that this person was able to complete upper-secondary school,” says Emelie Grönfors.
“School is a central part of everyday life for children and adolescents, and it has a great influence on how children develop and their mental state. An important conclusion of Elin’s and Emelie’s thesis is that closer cooperation is required between speech therapists and schools, and that teachers may need more training about stuttering and how it affects the psychological well-being of children,” says Senior Lecturer Tove Lagerberg, who supervised the thesis, together with her colleague Katja Laakso.
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted. It occurs in about one percent of the adult population and in about five percent of children. In most cases, stuttering is hereditary, and today it is considered to be due to an interaction of several factors, where the root cause is believed to be neurological instability resulting in a loss of control of the speech process.