Conducting a science fair project on stuttering can provide an outstanding opportunity for students to experience empowerment when it comes to their speech. As we launch into National Stuttering Awareness Week, I want to share the story of a student who did just that.
Last year, Jacob, a brilliant 12-year-old, elected to do his science fair project on the experiences of people—like himself—who stutter. He researched the disorder online, consulted with me and other university faculty, designed his own survey, and distributed it to hundreds of adults who stutter. Many of those adults rushed to provide feedback to his questions and were thrilled to help a child bold enough to take on this challenge.
The project was a culmination of everything important we want to teach children who stutter. Jacob experienced all major components for comprehensive treatment techniques of school-aged children who stutter:
- Learn about stuttering.
- Connect with others who stutter.
- Practice self-disclosure and advertising.
- Stand up and speak in front of people.
- Educate peers and adults about stuttering.
In the few weeks he spent on this project, he showed tremendous amounts of internal motivation to learn all he could from many others who shared his condition. “I knew so much about stuttering already, I thought it would be cool to hear what other people had to say,” Jacob told me.
People responded to his surveys with answers like:
- “I feel frustrated when I stutter.”
- “On the first day of class, I tell people I stutter. It makes things easier and takes the edge off.”
- “Sometimes I get weird looks. I don’t think people are trying to be mean.”
- “When I get stuck, it feels like something is gripping my throat really tight.”
- “I think I care about it more than others.”
- “Once I get going, I’m usually glad I said something, whether I stuttered or not.”
- “I thought people would think less of me for stuttering. But … every time I’ve asked, I’ve been wrong. No one thinks less of me for stuttering.”
As his speech-language pathologist, I helped him prepare his questions, make contact with other people who stutter, rehearse his presentation and role-play challenging situations. I also made sure he—and his family—were ready for this bold and challenging task. Jacob was accomplishing almost all of his treatment goals by participating in this science fair project. After compiling the results of his survey, Jacob educated not just his classroom, but the entire school on how stuttering affects a person’s life.
Students, parents, siblings, teachers, principals, administrative staff, custodians, coaches, and (very likely) other kids who stutter all checked out his presentation. He enjoyed confidently talking with judges and other kids about his findings from an “expert” point of view, knowing more about stuttering than probably everyone else.
“It’s a good thing you are doing this project … because people need to know,” commented one of his research subjects. Jacob’s bravery led to public awareness and personal empowerment. Talk with your students who stutter to see who’s ready to follow in his footsteps! And share the results in the comment section below.
Tricia Hedinger, MS, CCC-SLP, is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and a regional director for the National Stuttering Association. email@example.com