What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this), or stops in the flow of sounds and syllables. There may also be accompanying secondary behaviours such as unusual facial and body movements, associated with the effort to speak. Stuttering is also referred to as stammering (particularly in the UK) and disfluent speech. Stuttering crosses all ages, genders, races, cultures, religions, and social groups. Everyone has normal disfluencies when they speak such as hesitations, interjections (um, ah), and phrase repetitions and these types of typical disfluencies are not considered to be stuttering.
Is my child stuttering?
If your child has difficulty speaking and gets “stuck” on words; hesitates on or repeats certain sounds, syllables, words, or phrases, your child may have a stuttering difficulty. It is also very likely that your child may be going through a period of normal disfluency that many children experience as they learn to speak. Developmental disfluencies happen most often between ages 1½ and 6 years old, and they tend to be episodic (come and go and/or go up and down in severity) and tend to resolve without intervention. The latest research suggests that 8% of children will stutter at some point, and approximately 1% continue to stutter into adulthood. Stuttering is 3 to 4 times more common in boys than in girls.
Intervention for Stuttering:
If you think your child is stuttering it is good to talk to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) right away so they can monitor your child’s speech and assess the factors that may be associated with a risk of persistent stuttering. If the stuttering persists beyond three to six months or is particularly severe, you and the SLP may discuss an intervention plan. There are a variety of successful approaches for stuttering interventions with both children and adults. In general, early intervention is recommended. There is no cure for stuttering though it can be managed.
Speech-language pathologists provide assessment, monitoring, recommendations, and interventions (if appropriate) for students who stutter. Most intervention programs address education about stuttering, encouraging healthy feelings and attitudes about stuttering, tools to help manage stuttering if appropriate for the child, and how to self-advocate and handle peers’ reactions to stuttering which may sometimes looks like teasing/bullying. Speech-language pathologists also educate and work with teachers to help support students who stutter at school.
7 Important Tips for talking with a Child Who Stutters
The following seven guidelines represent a number of ways that adults around a child can help promote the child’s fluency. Most children who stutter benefit from taking time to speak at a rate (speed) that promotes fluency.
1. Reduce the pace of speaking and your day in general (if possible). Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently every few words you say (e.g., “I think (pause) it’s going to rain (pause) so let’s get (pause) our boots on”. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes before you begin to speak. Your own easy, relaxed speech will be far more effective than any advice such as “slow down” or “try it again slowly”. For some children, it is also helpful to introduce a more relaxed pace of life for a while (e.g., register your child in one less extra-curricular activity or plan one less event in the day).
2. Full listening. Try to increase those times that you give your child your undivided attention and are really listening. This does not mean dropping everything every time he or she speaks. It does require the adult to be mindful and deliberate about slowing down, removing distractions and providing the full attention that gives your child the time and space to get their words and ideas out.
3. Comment more frequently than asking questions. Asking questions is a normal part of life – but try to resist asking one after the other. Sometimes it is more helpful to comment on what your child has said and wait (e.g., “I noticed you like the rainbow unicorn”; “I’m wondering if you are going to build a tower in Minecraft today”). This type of commenting provides a language model and gives your child an opportunity to formulate their idea in an unpressured way.
4. Ask choice questions instead of open-ended questions. When you ask a choice question rather than on open-ended question, you provide your child with modelled language and you remove the pressure to formulate a spontaneous answer. Open-ended questions place more demands on the child while choice questions questions place less demands on the child. E.g., open-ended question: “Where did you go in Burnaby Village Museum?” VS choice question: “I wonder if you went on the carousel first or to the general store when you went to Burnaby Village Museum?”.
5. Turn taking. Help all members of the family take turns talking and listening. Children find it much easier to talk when there are fewer interruptions. For instance, you can set “ground rules” at specific times like dinnertime where you establish that everyone will have a turn to speak and everyone will wait for the other person to finish talking. This can help the child who stutters feel supported and less anxious about taking extra time to formulate their language and words if they are getting stuck.
6. Building confidence. Use descriptive praise to build confidence. An example would be “I like the way you picked up your toys. You’re so helpful,” instead of “that’s great.” Praise strengths unrelated to talking as well, such as athletic skills, being organized, independent, or careful. This helps to build your child as a whole person and takes the focus away from speech, especially if this is a source of struggle for them.
7. Special times. Set aside a few minutes of time each day when you can give your undivided attention to your child. This can be at a regular time or whenever it is most convenient. This quiet calm time – no TV, iPad or phones – can be a confidence builder for young children. As little as five minutes a day can make a difference to create a calmer, slower-paced environment and more connection between you and your child. This supports their well-being, and in turn, their speech.
These tips were gathered and adapted from a brochure published by the Stuttering Foundation called: “7 Tips for Talking with your Child”
The Stuttering Foundation of America
Michael Palin Center for Stammering
Story about an ER doctor who stutters
7 Tips for talking with the child who stutters by the Stuttering Foundation