What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech problem. It occurs when the normal flow of speech is disrupted. A child who stutters will repeat or prolong sounds, syllables, or words. Stuttering is not the same thing as repeating words when learning to speak. Stuttering can wreak havoc on a young child’s world, making it challenging to communicate with others.
With the advent of teletherapy, now a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can diagnose stuttering online through a comprehensive evaluation of a child’s speech and language abilities. While there is no cure for stuttering, early treatment can prevent stuttering from continuing into adulthood.
When is Stuttering a Problem?
Research shows that for about three-quarters of preschool-age children who stuttered, the stuttering went away by itself without any treatment. However, if a parent notices that a child’s stuttering continues longer than three to six months, or if the stuttering began after age 3½, or if someone else in the family stuttered, then it may warrant a teletherapy evaluation.
Another concern that parents should be aware of is that, if the child demonstrates tension or seems to have a negative attitude regarding speaking, this could be a red flag. Self-consciousness may cause the child to react to the stuttering by purposefully blinking her eyes or nodding her head to avoid talking.
What are the Symptoms of Stuttering?
It must be understood at the outset that, because every child develops differently, there are no hard and fast rules. Many times a child’s “stuttering” is nothing more than a stage in healthy speech and language development. However, if any of the following symptoms persist for 3 to 6 months, there is a reason for concern that the child has a stuttering problem:
There is a repetition of either sounds, syllables, or words. A common example of repetition is W-W-W-What.
Or in the place of repetition, sounds are prolonged, such as SSSSend.
Sometimes the child will interject fillers such as “um” or “like.”
A child pausing a lot or talking slowly often indicates a problem.
She may open her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. The speech stops.
The child may seem nervous or out of breath when talking.
Tension is revealed by trembling, shaking lips when speaking or fast eye blinking.
The stuttering increases when the child is under stress or tired.
Sometimes the child is just too traumatized to talk at all.
What Are The 3 Types of Stuttering?
Developmental Stuttering. The most common type of stuttering in children is developmental. Problems generally become noticeable between the second and fifth birthday. The child’s speech and language development isn’t keeping pace with her desire to express herself.
Neurogenic Stuttering. Neurogenic stuttering has nothing to do with the child’s development but is instead a direct result of either a stroke or brain injury. The stuttering is an indication that there is deficient communication between the brain and nerves and those muscles responsible for normal speech.
Psychogenic Stuttering. Psychogenic stuttering is more unusual. This type of stuttering can coincide with problems related to thinking or reasoning, or may occur as a result of psychological trauma.
Why Does Stuttering Need to be Treated Early?
Once it is determined that the child has a stuttering problem, it is imperative to treat the stuttering as early as possible. This is because, if the problem is left alone, it will most likely lead to collateral damage such as adverse and hurtful reactions from peers, teachers, or unknowledgeable adults.
Aside from the emotional pain that this will most certainly bring, the stuttering itself is likely to worsen, setting up a vicious cycle where the child will become afraid to talk. Humiliated, the child will look for reasons not to speak, which will cause regression and further complications.
Avoiding situations where it is appropriate to speak sets the stage for long-term problems that may carry into adulthood. These problems could ultimately affect the child’s capacity to form healthy relationships or find a meaningful job.
What Causes Stuttering?
While research has yet to discover the exact cause of stuttering, it is widely believed that there is a genetic component. Stuttering seems to be related to problems in the way that a child’s brain develops neural pathways for speech and language.
Young children undergo rapid development, which is known as a “language explosion,” in their preschool years. These years are the most common time for stuttering to begin. As the young child’s vocabulary increases rapidly, the brain’s neural networks responsible for speech fail to coordinate correctly, resulting in stuttering.
What Are Some Typical Treatments for Stuttering?
Specific treatment for stuttering depends on several factors, including the child’s age, symptoms, the severity of the condition, and overall health. There are a variety of techniques that SLPs, who perform teletherapy, use to teach the child to speak without stuttering, such as learning to breathe while speaking or slowing down the speech. Often, with older children or adults, SLPs work on acceptance of the established stuttering behavior.
A treatment that has gained traction in some circles in recent years is the Lidcombe Program. The Lidcombe Program is an approach which focuses on the SLP and parent praising the child for speaking without stuttering. The objective is to help the child to form new neural pathways that will lead to diminished stuttering.
Recent research has shown that the Lidcombe Program is an effective stuttering treatment for children under 6 years of age. In fact it is 7.5 times more likely to reduce stuttering than natural recovery (Onslow et al., 2012).
How Can a Parent Help?
The most important way that parents can help their children who stutter is to show their acceptance of their child’s stuttering and minimize their reaction when the stuttering occurs. Children soak up their parents’ attitudes and emotions, which practically guarantees that, if the parent is anxious about the stuttering, the child will be as well.
Aside from keeping the proper mindset, there are other ways parents can help their children control and even minimize stuttering.
Resist the temptation to finish your child’s words when the child is stuttering.
Model speaking slowly, deliberately, comfortably, and in a relaxed manner.
Make the time to talk with your child, giving her your undivided attention.
When your child is speaking, please don’t interrupt.
Put your phone down and listen to your child when she speaks.
If your child wants to talk about her stutter, talk openly about it.