The Arm Bump

Here is a popular activity that helps fluent speakers understand a little bit about what stuttering is like. I led a group of about 20 teachers in this exercise in early March as it appeared likely to be the most effective way to engage such an audience in the topic of stuttering at the end of their work day.
I began by asking them all to take out their #2 pencils. :)

Seriously, everyone needed to write. Each chose a partner. One member of the partnership was asked to write her name several times. The partner was instructed to bump the writer's arm several times as she was writing. The bumping needed to vary in pressure and timing so that the writer could not predict when it would happen. The partners switched places in order for everyone to experience both roles. Teachers were laughing, talking, grumbling about messy writing....the first objective of the afternoon had been accomplished - they were engaged.

Facilitated discussion followed: how did they like the writing? How did their fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders or any other parts of their body react to being bumped? How did they respond emotionally... any anticipation anxiety? Did their hands prepare for upcoming unpredictable bumps?

Generally speaking, this activity elicits physical tension in the fingers and hands. People tend to grip their pencils more tightly in anticipation of and in reaction to being bumped. They feel a range of emotions including annoyance, frustration, loss of control, and sometimes anger. One writer spontaneously grumbled, "I give up." People who stutter tend to do so on their own names, a very embarrassing event. This is why they were asked to write their own names. They write for several minutes so as to experience the relentless nature of the bumping. Yet, after the 5-10 minute activity, they have the luxury of returning to their original state of fluent writing. Facilitated discussion guides the conversation to how a person responds to stuttering.

In the 10 minutes reserved for questions, someone asked, "What can teachers do to help a child who stutters?" and I knew I had missed an important objective. The next presentation must include copies of Straight Talk for Teachers from the Stuttering Foundation of America for every teacher. We all still want a "How to..." list of directions. Please visit http://www.stutteringhelp.org/ for specific tips for the classroom.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.