by Francine J. Bliss
Should you tell the class about stuttering? The response from my nine year old son, who stutters is, “YES!” Ryan has done so for three years now. I have never regretted asking him to do it.
His first time telling his class was in the middle of March in second grade. He needed to do a biography presentation to all of the parents of students in his class. I asked Ryan to start his presentation by telling everyone he stuttered. His first response was, “NO WAY!” I asked for him to try it once. Well, luck hit!! Ryan said he would try it.
That night was so emotional. Parents listening, students presenting and it’s Ryan’s turn. All of a sudden I hear, “Good evening. My name is Ryan Bliss and I am going to take my time because I stutter…” I sat on the edge of my seat listening to every word and just waited. He was one of only three children from his class who memorized their speech. He was calm and successful. It was such a proud moment for the entire family.
Third grade was right around the corner. After getting a new teacher in a new school, anxiety was at a high for Ryan. Just before visiting day, Ryan and I wrote his new teacher a letter about his stuttering and what she could do to help him. On that day, Ryan approached his new teacher and told her that he had a letter for her about his stuttering. Mrs. D’Allesandro was compassionate right from the start. She told him that they would work together to make him feel comfortable and successful. In October, I visited the class and read Jamaica’s Find by Vera Williams. We discussed honesty and the importance of being honest about thoughts and feelings with family and friends. Ryan then told his classmates about his stuttering. We asked if anyone knew what stuttering was. None of the students truly knew about stuttering. After the discussion, we handed out Chinese Finger Traps to all of the children. We explained that the feelings in their fingers, was what it felt like in Ryan’s throat when he stuttered. After a lengthy discussion, we gave out “Friends” t-shirts to everyone. To see Ryan’s excitement and joy while handing out the shirts to his classmates was heart warming. I knew right then, I did the right thing by asking him to try to share his stuttering with his teacher and classmates.
Fourth Grade came quickly. Writing a note to the teacher and telling the class wasn’t even a question. Ryan was making the plans without me. This year we read, Stuttering Stan Takes a Stand by Artie Knapp. We asked the class about stuttering and about people being different. Listening to the children tell my son that it is no big deal and that they didn’t even notice his stuttering, was wonderful to hear. This year we let the children pick “Friends” hats, shirts or bracelets. We did the same activity with the Chinese Finger Traps, which really gave the children an understanding about stuttering or to be stuck. Sharing the “Friends” items lead to additional discussions about “Friends”. How do I know? Melissa’s mom called me to say thank you for what her daughter had learned that day about people’s differences and compassion for others. It honestly brought tears to my eyes.
Knowledge is power. Confronting your differences elevates the pressure of being bullied. Ryan put his stuttering right out there! He answered any questions and gave his classmates information about stuttering. I truly believe that their knowledge of stuttering has prevented anyone in his class from making fun of Ryan or bullying him.
Just try it!! It was the best thing for Ryan and his parents!!
Francine J. Bliss
Commack, New York