Most stuttering begins between ages 2 and 5, but 75 percent of these children will outgrow their stuttering anytime within a week to a two-year time frame. However, teenagers who stutter are facing the very real possibility that they may not outgrow their disorder, all while trying to navigate school, friends, and changing family relationships. It can be a scary and complex time, but there are some ways make the teenage years easier for people who stutter (PWS).
Be unfailingly accepting
The teenagers who stutter need to know that they are loved and accepted, regardless of how they speak. The acceptance of those around them will allow them to accept themselves.
Give them an outlet for expression
Many PWS's find empowerment in speaking out about their disability, but let them decide how they want to advocate for themselves. Some stutterers may be comfortable talking to classes or civic organizations about stuttering, but others are more comfortable writing, singing or using art to express their emotions.
Don't force them to talk
If they do not want to discuss their stuttering, don't force the issue. Encourage those who struggle with stuttering to express their emotions any way they feel comfortable, even if they specifically want to avoid talking about their speech.
Keep an open dialogue with their school
Prepared speeches, presentations, reading in class or answering questions in class can be difficult for some PWS's. School should not feel scary! Schools have to accommodate stutterers, but parents may have to take the first steps in advocating for their child.
Make sure all therapy is a good fit for the PWS
Not all speech language pathologists have adequate training to work with fluency disorders, so you may need to try out different types of therapy and work with different therapists to find a productive match. Remember that the goal of fluency therapy is a reduction in stuttering; there is no cure. Have optimistically realistic expectations.
Be vigilant in watching for signs of social isolation
Stuttering mixed with normal teenage insecurities can lead some PWS's to withdraw from social situations. Encourage the teenager to find friends who support their speech issue. Also, praise your teenager when he leaves his comfort zone to participate in social activities.
Be a sounding board
Teenage PWS's worry about a lot of things, especially dating, making new friends, preparing to leave home and their support system and trying to choose a career that they feel comfortable with. Be available to listen patiently to their concerns, and never put them down for worrying about something you may see as silly. These are very real concerns for them.
Stuttering for teenagers is an uncommon disorder and can be incredibly isolating. Many teenage stutterers do not know any other people with their disability. Social media such as Facebook and Google Hangouts are a great place for teen PWS's to connect and share like experiences. You can also check out the National Stuttering Association (nsa.org) to find local support groups.
All teen PWS's can go on to lead full, productive adult lives. They may need extra support and encouragement to realize their full potential, but they have something special to give the world. People who stutter have the unique opportunity to teach the world to listen, and teenagers often have the youthful enthusiasm necessary to make a real impact on the world.