“When I grow up and get married, will my wife know that I stuttered?” A nine year old boy asked me this in one of his therapy sessions. I certainly felt privileged that he allowed me insight into his internal world of wonder and worry; as often it is parents, carers and educators who ask whether they should be worried about a child?s stutter, or whether the child is likely to just “grow out of it”. So let’s explore stuttering further.
Stuttering affects how fluently or smoothly one speaks. People who stutter know what they want to say, but have trouble saying it. Stutters can occur as;
- Repetition of sounds, words or phrases (e.g., I I I I did it!)
- Prolongation of sounds (e.g., wheres my sssssister?)
- Blocking; moments where no sounds come out (e.g. We – are going home now)
- Non-verbal movements (e.g. blinking, facial grimacing)
A few facts:
- Stuttering can vary in severity over time, and even throughout a day.
- A child may stutter more when talking about a new topic.
- People who stutter can be more fluent when speaking in different ways (e.g. singing, whispering, character voices).
- A child who already stutters, may stutter more during emotional times e.g. excitement, fatigue, anger, competing to be heard.
- Anxiety does not cause stuttering, however some children who stutter may feel anxious talking, and might avoid speaking in particular situations e.g. on the phone.
- Stuttering is often first heard in children between the ages of 2-5 years when speech and language is developing.
When should you consider treatment?
- If the stutter has been occurring for 6-12 months; treatment is highly recommended. Research shows stuttering therapy has better outcomes for pre-schoolers than it does for older people.
- If a parent or relative stutters, a child has a higher chance of stuttering than someone whose parents or relatives do not; thus needing close monitoring.
- If the child is experiencing anxiety / social issues in relation to their stutter, it is important to address the stuttering to decrease anxiety, and increase speaking confidence.
Stuttering treatment trains the child to speak fluently and with confidence. Types of treatment depend on the age of the child and the severity of their stutter. The most common form of treatment for pre-school children who stutter is called the Lidcombe Program (taking its name from the Sydney suburb, where the Australian Stuttering Research Centre is based at the University of Sydney). Parents are trained and monitored to appropriately carry out the program. The approach is positive, sessions are a lot of fun, and results achieved!
Some tips if your child does stutter:
- Take time to listen to what your child is saying, not how it is being said (i.e. don’t worry about the stutters).
- Let your child finish what they’re saying; resist the temptation to finish their words or sentences.
- Repeat or rephrase what your child says to show that you have understood.
- Reassure your child if they have concerns about their stutter.
- Praise your child specifically when speaking fluently e.g. “nice smooth talking”.
- Discuss your concerns with a Speech Pathologist, especially if the stutter has persisted beyond 6 months.
This article was published in the Autumn issue of Shire’s Children magazine; www.shireschildren.com.au