Transfer Step 1: Identification

This blog entry is about transfer, learning to use new communication skills in everyday life. (1) Transfer is a long term goal. We must be careful not to blame the child for failure to transfer new speaking skills because there really is no such thing as failure. When the child, parent, teacher, and speech language pathologist (slp) design a transfer task, the outcome is always just another learning opportunity. Life is unpredictable, so transfer activities will probably not proceed exactly according to plan. But by understanding that many tiny little successes eventually add up to bigger, long-term accomplishments, we become better at recognizing and rewarding transfer success when we see it.

Transfer can begin immediately in the form of identification tasks. These are times when the parent and child observe what the stuttering behaviors look and feel like and when they occur. The role of the slp is to help the family talk about the “elephant in the room,” the stuttering. In a speech therapy session, the slp talks sensitively and without judgment about this frightening and confusing speech problem called stuttering. Hopefully, the child and parents become more comfortable talking about stuttering as a result.

This is an especially delicate process with very young children because parents are afraid that talking about stuttering will make it worse. In this situation, the slp may comment on her own voluntary disfluency and wait for the child’s response. In some cases, it will be appropriate to talk about bumpy speech with a preschooler. In other cases, it will not. With the older child, the slp models “an attitude of inquiry and curiosity about stuttering” (p.93) while at the same time demonstrating voluntary stuttering and sharing basic information about speech production. She chats comfortably about how every child experiences stuttering a little bit differently and how stuttering is no one’s fault. The first step in therapy involves discovering what kind of stuttering the child is doing, how it changes day-to-day, and if it is affecting the child’s thoughts and feelings about talking.

The child and parent may identify stuttering quite differently. I have observed young children block and react by pausing, whispering, and even raising a hand to the mouth while the parents insist he/she is unaware of a speech problem. I have listened to parents describe stuttered speech that their elementary school age child did not know was happening. And teens have described experiencing mild blocks accompanied by overwhelming anxiety that no one else seems to notice.

When everyone involved feels safe sharing their own perspective about stuttering, a more comprehensive picture of the problem can unfold. This identification process happens intermittently over the entire course of speech therapy, in my opinion. Every time a child makes progress, he/she must admit the need to keep moving forward. And this means identifying yet another problem area. With growing maturity and awareness, the child must identify not only the stuttering problem, but also the thoughts, feelings, and distractions that make transfer tasks difficult. For example, talking with teachers and peers about stuttering seems to be a gargantuan undertaking. Yet these are key people in a network of support necessary for transfer.

(1) Peter R. Ramig & Darrell M. Dodge (2010) The Child and Adolescent Stuttering Treatment and Activity Resource Guide, 2nd ed., Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.