Speech Therapy for Stuttering: First Sessions

Speech Therapy for Stuttering: First Sessions

You’ve scheduled your first speech therapy appointment for your child. Your focus is to help your child with stuttering. You want your child to learn more about how to speak clearly. What should you expect for your first few speech therapy appointments for stuttering?

You likely have questions.

What does speech therapy look like?
How can speech therapy help?
What will my child learn?
What types of activities will my child complete? 

Although speech therapy looks different for clients with different needs, there are some basics. If your child is beginning speech therapy for stuttering, there are a few areas he/she is likely to learn about.

This article outlines four common targets of first sessions with children who stutter. Specifically, these are targets for children who are 5 years old or older. Younger children may work on activities targeted more towards play.

Speech Therapy for Stuttering: First Sessions

1. Information about Stuttering

Speech therapy may (especially at first) focus on learning stuttering facts. Some examples:

What causes stuttering?
How many people stutter?
Do more boys or girls stutter?
Is there a cure for stuttering?
Who are some famous people who stutter? 

Why do we focus on this?

Honestly, many of my clients know very little about stuttering when they come to my clinic. Often, they don’t know anyone else who stutters. In addition, they aren’t sure why stuttering occurs or what they can do about it.

Depending on the client, we may spend more or less time on this topic. I typically do a pretest before starting this unit to determine how much my client already knows. That way, I can focus on specific areas that my particular client needs to learn.

But, really. Why focus on stuttering facts for those sessions? Why is it important?

Ultimately, how can you work towards improving something you know very little about? Although it can be tempting to skip this step, it’s essential to learn about stuttering in order to see growth in this area. In order to improve in any area, you need to learn more about it. This is typically something my clients don’t talk to others about very often, and they are curious to learn more.

It may take a session or two (or even more) to do this educational piece. For some of the older children I work with, we do a Jeopardy game at the end of this unit. Students love playing this game! Also, these clients can take the game home and have fun educating their families. Children build confidence as they realize how much they’ve learned as we wrap up the unit with Jeopardy. They also say it is fun to realize they know more than their families about this topic and they frequently win the game!

2. Educating Communication Partners

Another education piece is to provide resources for my client’s communication partners. These partners can include parents, classmates, friends and teachers.

I start by asking my client if anyone in their communication circle could use more information about stuttering, and if so how they’d like that information shared. A client may want to share stuttering information with a sibling, parent or teacher. If my client needs information, I’ll share a brochure, an information sheet, or links to helpful information online. This step focuses on basic information about how to be a communication partner for people who stutter.

Why is educating communication partners important?

My client won’t be communicating in a bubble. Because of this, it is important that his/her communication partners understand something about stuttering.

In most cases, I send home one sheet of basic helpful information. From there, I provide more resources to those who want more information.

3. Strategies

We will likely learn strategies for smoother speech, including:

– Determining the location of the tension during the stuttering event

– Learning more about types of stuttering and practicing them to increase awareness 

Strategies targeted depend on each particular client and their priorities. These strategies will be practiced in structured situations in the speech therapy room, and then in less structured settings outside the speech therapy clinic.


4. Identifying Avoidance Situations

In this step, we identify communication situations that are both comfortable/easy for your child as well as uncomfortable/difficult. Typically, we encourage our clients to identify what kind of language they’d like to use around these topics. We want to hear more about this from your child’s perspective, so they will identify and list out these situations with their SLP’s support.

I like to create a visual for this, so we may draw a ladder and at the bottom write speaking situations that feel easy (based on your child’s report) and go up the ladder to brainstorm increasingly difficult communication situations (again, from your child’s perspective). For example, a recent client put whispering to her mom at the bottom of the ladder (meaning that felt easiest) and answering questions when getting called on in class at the top of the ladder (meaning that was hardest for her). Towards the middle of the ladder, she put reading aloud and making phone calls.

This is done to first identify situations where speaking may be easier or harder for your child so that we can target speaking in those situations (including using strategies) so that those communication situations feel more do-able for children. It’s important that we have repeated practice in comfortable situations (those lower on the ladder) before we move on to more challenging situations. In addition, these more challenging situations will also be practiced quite a bit in the speech room before we move on to other settings (outside the speech room).

These are activities that may not be done in the first few sessions, but it’s important to be aware of what these activities are so you understand their purpose.

Speech Therapy for Stuttering: Essentials for Success

If you are working with an SLP, be sure to share your expectations for treatment as well. Share what you hope to gain from speech therapy. By doing this, you’ll be able to have a productive conversation and set expectations with your SLP. In addition, your SLP can share his/her expectations of your role in the process and will be able to let you know what sort of outcome is expected from speech therapy treatment.
Increasing awareness of stuttering, educating communication partners, learning strategies for smoother speech, and identifying when speech is easier versus harder and practicing (with support) in those situations helps clients have positive outcomes with speech therapy. While each child is unique (as are their needs), these skills provide an important foundation for early speech therapy sessions.

Further Reading

If you’d like to read more on stuttering, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has information on stuttering on their website. 

The Stuttering Foundation also has lots of parent information for both parents of school-age children and for parents of preschool-age children.

Another source for information is the Stuttering Source blog, which is written by a speech-language pathologist named Brooke Leiman. I recently took an excellent course on stuttering taught by Ms. Leiman, and I also enjoy reading her blog.


Do you live in the Rogue Valley? Are you looking for an SLP? If you’d like to learn more about my clinic, you can review my FAQs, or reach out for more information. To see what I’m up to in my clinic, feel free to follow me on Instagram.


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