Stuttering – How Can I Help My Child?
When is it “appropriate”
Many young children go through periods of times where their speech is “disfluent”, or bumpy-sounding. These bumpy periods often occur during “language explosions” when children are rapidly learning new words and grammatical structures. Your child’s disfluencies may be developmentally appropriate if he or she:
· occasionally repeats the first sounds or word in a phrase (usually 1-2x)
· is between the ages of 1.5-5 years old
· has disfluencies that are not consistent; your child may go through phases of disfluency that go away on their own after a short period of time
When to seek help from a therapist
There are several red flags that indicate a child’s disfluencies may be indicative of a “true stutter” vs. developmental disfluencies. You should consider having your child evaluated by an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist if one or more of the following red flags are present:
· your child’s disfluencies have lasted for longer than 6 months
· your child is 5 years old or older
· you have a history of stuttering in your family
· your child is a boy (boys have been shown to stutter 4x more than girls)
· your child’s disfluencies occur more frequently/appear more severe
· your child gets “stuck” on sounds or words, typically at the beginning of sentences and phrases, and can’t “get their words out”
· your child may prolong sounds, such as “mmmmmmmmore please”
· your child’s dysfluencies appear effortful and strained
· your child demonstrates “secondary characteristics”, or behaviors that occur during disfluencies, i.e. forcefully blinking eyes, slapping leg, turning away
· your child is aware of their disfluencies and becomes upset, embarrassed, or frustrated when disfluencies occur
Can you prevent stuttering?
Unfortunately, there are no known ways to “prevent” your child from developing a stutter. Stuttering is a neurological communication disorder that can be “caused” by a combination of complex factors, including genetics, child development, neurophysiology, and family dynamics. (see FAQ from The Stuttering Foundation website). There is currently no known “cure” for stuttering; however, there are many treatment approaches that can be performed by a speech-language pathologist that have been proven affective in helping to reduce or eliminate stuttering. There are also many ways that you can change the way you and your child communicate to promote smooth, more fluent speech in the home- see the parent section below for tips and tricks for increasing your child’s fluency.
How to treat stuttering
There are a variety of treatment methods to help reduce the frequency of stuttering and promote smooth speech. A speech-language pathologist can help determine the severity and types of dysfluencies that your child is experiencing and will assist in developing a plan of treatment that is best suited for your child. This plan of treatment may include modification of speaking rate, modification of muscle tension/relaxation during speech, modification of respiration, etc. A speech-language pathologist will also work with your child to help them learn more about stuttering and its causes, as well as helping your child identify any negative emotions associated with stuttering and working through these emotions to achieve fluent speech. For more detailed information regarding treatments for stuttering, please visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website.
How a parent can help at home
You can help your child reduce his or her dysfluencies at home in the following ways:
· Slow it down! Model slow and relaxed speech around your home. This helps reduce the “pressure” your child may feel to “keep up” by using fast paced speech, which often leads to increased disfluencies
· Make time for your child to communicate with you. Set aside a time of the day where you can listen to your child without multi-tasking or interjecting with questions or comments- allow your child to tell you whatever they’d like without feeling any pressure.
· Before responding to your child or other family members, try to pause rather than immediately responding. This encourages a more relaxed pace for communication for the whole family
· Don’t interrupt or try to “finish” a sentence for your child when they are stuttering- this can be discouraging for your child and make them feel that they have failed in their attempt to communicate. Allow them to finish their thought regardless of the length of stutter. Try to avoid speaking about or reacting in a negative way when stuttering occurs; reacting in a kind and accepting way can help encourage your child.
What can happen if stuttering goes untreated
If stuttering remains untreated, it can have serious emotional consequences for your child as they grow older. Children who stutter often experience negative emotions associated with their stuttering, including feelings of frustration, anger, confusion, embarrassment, and sadness. Children who stutter may start to withdraw socially. They may experience anxiety in social situations and “pressured” communication settings, such as restaurants, stores, etc. You child may have difficulty participating in school activities or being in front of others during presentations or speeches. Treatment of stuttering by a certified speech-language pathologist can not only help your child become more fluent, but can also help your child understand and confront the negative emotions associated with stuttering. As stated by the Stuttering Foundation, “Overcoming stuttering is often more a matter of losing fear of stuttering than a matter of trying harder”; a speech language pathologist can help assist you and your child on your journey to reduce stuttering.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s fluency, please see the ABC Pediatric Therapy Website, www.abcpediatrictherapy.com, for more detailed information or call any of our locations to speak with a speech-language pathologist.