Helping to develop a stammering app for parents

Two images, one of a pair of hands using a mobile phone, the other of a woman standing next to promotional banners
Jaclyn Morton

Speech & Language Therapist Jaclyn Morton tells us what it was like to work on an app to support parents.

When I was asked to be involved in developing an app for parents of children who stammer by the team at BeneTalk, I had my reservations. As a Speech & Language Therapist (SLT) I'm more used to being in a clinic and talking to parents, asking questions and being led by them. What did I know about creating apps?

Alongside this trepidation, there was also excitement. Parents often have to wait quite a while for a therapy appointment. It's not uncommon for them to express feelings of confusion, worry, guilt and a general sense of just not knowing what to do for the best, which isn't helped by the wait. Could we help parents by providing immediate advice and reassurance in a mobile app? Could parents feel supported, at this time, in a different way? So I said yes, I would be up for giving it a go.

Supporting parents

BeneTalk is a company that produces apps to help with stammering. It's led by Jordi, a person who stammers, and I've been working closely with Ronan, an academic who is due to train as an SLT and also stammers. Plus a couple more wonderful people who know A LOT about tech!

We shared the same goal of wanting to develop something that would help parents right from the start, and so in turn, help to give children who stammer supportive messages about their talking, and themselves.

Parents are so important in helping little people grow up knowing it is OK to stammer and to help them talk confidently, so it's essential they feel understood and supported too. 

From speaking to parents and feeling it ourselves, it's easy to think and do all sorts of things in an attempt to help children — "Perhaps I should give him more vitamins? Would more veg help? Don't let his sister speak to him, and definitely stop asking questions!" More seriously though, it can lead very naturally to blaming ourselves and questioning what we've done or said, or not done and not said, that has led to stammering to start.

Working on the app

My involvement in the app was in writing the content. When I work with families face to face, the process is tailored to and unique to them. As much as the app is not a replacement for therapy, it was challenging to ensure the content was not prescriptive. It shouldn't have a 'one size fits all' approach. It needed to give parents enough guidance to work out how best to support their child within the unique setting of their own family. The content needed to reach out to each parent and provide comfort and practical suggestions, in a way that worked for them and their families.

A guiding factor in writing the content was to share with parents what could be helpful to model to their child. I wanted it to help parents accept their feelings as well as do practical things like slow their own speech down. I also wanted the app to help parents trust that they have in themselves everything they need to support their child. And so in turn, parents were then in a position to model these important concepts to their child. was important to create space for parents to reflect on their own feelings and why they feel the way they do.

When I finished writing the content, it was quickly incorporated into the software. The excitement I experienced when this conversion happened was quite something! The amount of groundwork needed simply to produce one page of the app was very surprising to me. It was really interesting to see behind the scenes.

Creating space & helpling SLTS too

So a new app, 'Penguin: Stammering Support' was born. In the stammering therapy world we often liken stammering to an iceberg, with the stammer we see and hear being above the waterline, and lots of emotions and feelings going on underneath. Having a helpful penguin to take users through the app seems to fit nicely into that analogy. Plus, everyone seems to like penguins!

Penguin has videos and questions to support parents in making small changes at home to come to terms with stammering. Parents are so important in helping little people grow up knowing it is OK to stammer and to help them talk confidently, so it's essential they feel understood and supported too. We know that stammering often doesn't feel OK for parents, especially at first. So in the programme it was important to create space for them to reflect on their own feelings and why they feel the way they do.

As well as helping parents support themselves when their child starts stammering, the team want it be a resource for SLTs too. It would be great if it helps therapists with their work, provided support to people when they need it, and also gave parents ways to support children who might continue to stammer into adulthood. We already have several NHS Trusts using Penguin as a recommended resource for families on their waiting lists. We're really keen to learn more about how Penguin is doing, so we're doing some research to find out.

If you would like to download the free app and try it for yourself, search 'Penguin: Support for Stammering' in your app store or visit the BeneTalk Penguin website.

See Apps & Devices page for more options. 

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