Causes of Stuttering
Stuttering is more common than believed. It affects about three million Americans. Among children, nearly 5 percent stutter at some point. Boys are twice as likely to suffer from stuttering as girls. While most kids leave their stutter behind in childhood, approximately 1 percent of the adult population is still affected.
For years it was believed that anxiety was the primary cause of stuttering, but today some think it may be genetic. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise cause, but it is safe to assume that both anxiety and genetics are contributing factors.
Effects of Stuttering
Stuttering and anxiety are intimately connected. “Anxiety contributes to stuttering and stuttering leads to anxiety”. But sometimes the impact goes beyond anxiety. People who stutter are more susceptible to low self-esteem, constant fear of judgment, and even depression. Trying to hide the stutter doesn’t usually help and can make the stuttering worse.
Speech Therapy Helps Reduce Stuttering
Treating school children who stutter is different from the approach taken with preschoolers. With preschoolers, the objective is to enhance fluency. However for those already attending school, while fluency remains vital, the older a child becomes, the more critical it is to address the underlying emotional issues as well.
Besides improving fluency, school-age children must confront their feelings about stuttering, the struggle that is often part and parcel of the difficulty, the actual physical tension they experience, and the shame they feel from their peers. In other words, as the child grows, the problem becomes more complicated, requiring a broader more sophisticated approach.
Unfortunately, many SLPs and those practicing speech telepractice are uncomfortable working with stuttering. While they are experts in assisting children with articulation or language problems, many cannot address the complexity of the disorder. Therefore parents must find an SLP who is comfortable with stuttering and skilled at crafting a more comprehensive approach.
Helping children to eliminate or even reduce stuttering may include different components. For example, when children stutter, often they sense disruptions in timing (e.g. sound not being produced at all or taking too much time to enunciate) as well as physical tension (tightening of the muscles preventing them from moving effortlessly from sound to sound).
SLPs and those who perform speech telepractice know how to modify the timing of the child’s speech and reduce muscular tension, which improves fluency. Timing techniques include “easy onsets,” “smooth movements,” “easy speech,” “easy starts,” “slow speech,” etc. Since children are different, the SLP may experiment until the best intervention is found to help the child.
Additionally, the child needs tactics to ameliorate the tensing of muscles while in a stutter. When children feel that their speech is “stuck”, they will attempt anything to get out of the stutter. This usually means that they tighten up their muscles to force their way out. Ironically, the best method for getting “unstuck” is to relax their muscular tension.
In other words, another aspect of assisting a child who stutters is helping that child become less concerned about stuttering. By helping him or her accept the fact that she stutters, you are decreasing the likelihood that she will tense up her muscles, struggle with her speech, and stutter at all!
Speech Telepractice to the Rescue
As the gap between children needing speech therapy and SLPs in rural areas widens, the unfortunate reality is that many of these kids who stutter may be denied the help they need during those critical school years. However, those children have new hope as the exciting alternative of Speech Teletherapy (Online Speech Therapy) becomes ever more available.