It is difficult to provide a concise overview of speech therapy for teens who stutter, for every teen is different, and every teen has different needs from treatment. In general, though, it is fair to say that treatment for teens who stutter may involve several components, each aimed at the overall goal of helping the speaker develop effective communication abilities.
Of course, one primary component of therapy will be improving speech fluency. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, including teaching the teen to use speaking strategies that reduce the likelihood of stuttering and increase the likelihood of more fluent-sounding speech. Examples of these speaking strategies include “easy beginnings” or “easy starts,” “smooth speech” or “light contacts.” These strategies appear to increase fluency by reducing the amount of physical tension that is present in the speech muscles.
Typically, there is less of an emphasis on “slow speech” for teens because they may not prefer to use speech that sounds unnatural. In fact, it is important that any technique used in therapy for teens who stutter sound and feel natural to the speaker. This will increase the likelihood that the speaker will accept the technique and use it in the real world and reduce the likelihood of relapse when the speaker decides to return to a mode of speaking that feels more “natural” (even if it contains more stuttering).
In addition to techniques for improving fluency, therapy for teens who stutter may also include strategies for reducing physical tension during moments of stuttering and reducing the overall severity of stuttering. Often, teens who stutter exhibit struggle behaviors during their moments of stuttering. This increased tension results when the speaker attempts to prevent or avoid stuttering by forcing words out; however, it actually results in more severe stuttering as the struggle behaviors become incorporated into the teen’s stuttering pattern. Therefore, this aspect of therapy may involve activities designed to help speakers learn to recognize the feeling of physical tension during speech, then release that tension before continuing to speak. Examples of specific strategies may include “easing out” or “pulling out” of blocks, “cancellation” of moments of stuttering, and, in some cases, relaxation exercises designed to reduce physical tension in the speech muscles.
For many teens, the stuttering disorder involves more than just disfluencies in speech production. Many teens who stutter experience embarrassment and shame about their speaking difficulties. They may be nervous or anxious when they need to speech, and they may engage in various strategies designed to help them avoid speaking. All of these reactions to stuttering limit their ability to participate fully in their lives and get the most out of their life experiences. This is why speech therapists often say “stuttering is more than just stuttering.”
If a teen is experiencing a broader impact from his or her stuttering disorder, it is necessary for speech therapy to address that broader impact if therapy is going to be successful. The primary reason that teens engage in avoidance behaviors, or struggle with their speech, or feel fear and embarrassment about speaking is because they are not comfortable with the fact that they stutter. Thus, a major component of therapy for some teens may involve desensitization exercises¸ or activities that are designed to help teens become more accepting of the fact that they stutter. A teen who has come to terms with the fact that he stutters is less likely to engage in behaviors that are actually counter-productive to his ability to communicate effectively. Thus, a complete approach to therapy will involve not only strategies designed to improve speech, but also strategies designed to minimize the impact of the stuttering disorder on the speaker’s life.
In sum, treating teens who stutter is a complicated process that involves many different components. Therapy is aimed at helping teens who stutter communicate freely and effectively, so they can say what they want to say and get the most out of their lives. Success in therapy will involve a great deal of practice on the part of the teen, and a great deal of support on the part of the parent; however, with this practice and support, teens can communicate more easily and more successfully so stuttering will not hold them back from achieving their goals in life.