Two speech-language pathologists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Special Education and Communication Disorders department are starting a new support group for people who stutter.
Naomi Rodgers, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, said that along with lecturer Jessie Kohn, she is fostering a welcoming environment for young people who stutter. This new support group is part of a local chapter of the National Stuttering Organization.
Rodgers already facilitates a support group for adults in Lincoln and Omaha, but she said she recognized a growing need for community support for families whose children stutter.
“We wanted to start a support group because stuttering happens in only about 1% of the population and [children] who stutter may have never met another individual who can relate,” Kohn said.
According to Rodgers, about 1% of the global population has a stutter and around 19,000 people in Nebraska have this condition. Rodgers said about 5% of children between 2-6 years old will go through a period of developmental stuttering. About 75% of children with early stutters will eventually lose it, and the remaining 25% will most likely have the stutter for the rest of their lives.
Some people can even develop stuttering later in life, which is known as acquired stuttering. This type of stuttering is a result of neurological events like strokes, or medication side effects.
Kohn said some people don’t see their speech differences as a life challenge, but there are still some who do and have social anxiety or develop negative feelings about it. This often leads to them not talking about those experiences.
“We know that people heal when they start to talk,” Kohn said. “There’s something very powerful in recognizing that you’re not alone and you’re not the only person experiencing this. Talking helps you to normalize that situation and recenters your perspective to move forward.”
This support group is open to anyone between 7-17 years old. The meetings are held every first Monday of the month, starting Feb. 1, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. via Zoom and will be facilitated by graduate students from the speech-pathology program.
When in-person meetings are safe again, the group plans to meet at the Barkley Memorial Center on East Campus. Rodgers and Kohn said they will host two simultaneous groups each month: a youth group and a parent group. Anyone who is interested in joining the group can reach out to Rodgers and Kohn through their emails, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kohn and Rodgers plan to start each meeting with a fun and engaging activity like Kahoot! or Spot It!. Afterward, they said they want to move on to guided education activities related to stuttering. For example, they plan to teach techniques to make talking easier and help identify escape and avoidance behaviors. They said they will move into exploration of thoughts and feelings activities.
Rodgers said avoidant behaviors are developed when people who stutter learn to anticipate which sounds they will stutter on, and so they create behaviors to avoid those moments.
“While this may allow the speaker to ‘pass’ as fluent, talking becomes quite stressful and exhausting and they may feel like they’re walking through a minefield,” Rodgers said.
The ultimate goal Rodgers and Kohn have is to ensure these people have a safe space where they feel comfortable to open up toward others.
“Stuttering can be an extremely isolating experience, and one of the most important things that can set a person who stutters towards a healthy coping is knowing that they are not alone,” Rodgers said. “Realizing that other people have very similar experiences can provide a sense of belonging they just can’t get elsewhere.”