How can I tell if my child has a stuttering problem?
Everybody has trouble speaking from time to time. We've all filled sentences with "um" or "uh" or stumbled through a nerve-wracking speech. But when a child has a stuttering problem, words can be a daily struggle. Stuttering usually starts between the ages of 2 and 5, but it can arise anytime before the teenage years. Watch for these signs:
- Frequently repeats the sound at the beginning of a word three or more times (ki-ki-ki-ki-kitten).
- When stuck on a word, often replaces the normal vowel sound with "uh" (buh-buh-buh-bicycle).
- Drags out certain sounds (mmmmotorcycle)
- Speaks quickly
- Has long pauses in odd places, even within words
- Tenses up and shows obvious distress while speaking
- Has extra trouble talking when feeling nervous or uncomfortable
Why does my child stutter?
Nobody knows what causes stuttering. Many researchers think that small glitches in a child's brain might interfere with the timing and rhythm of his speech. Just as some kids have trouble catching fly balls, some simply don't have the verbal coordination to speak clearly. Stuttering can run in families, and it's four times more common in boys than in girls. The condition has nothing to do with intelligence, and it's definitely not a sign of bad parenting or hidden psychological problems. Stressful events such as moving to a new city can make stuttering worse, but they don't cause the problem in the first place.
How can I help my child improve his speech?
If your child stutters, he needs your understanding and support. Your encouragement will help him find his voice and stop any minor problems from getting worse. Here are some basic rules of thumb to follow:
- When your child stumbles in a sentence, keep normal eye contact and calmly wait for him to finish.
- Talk to him in slow, relaxed tones.
- Set aside time each day for pleasant, stress-free conversations.
- Listen to your child instead of criticizing him. Telling him to "start over" or "slow down" can just feed the problem by making him feel nervous and self-conscious.
- Let him know that you understand and sympathize with his problem. When he finishes a taxing sentence, he'll be glad to hear that "talking can be tough sometimes" or that his hard work is making you proud. If you pretend the stuttering doesn't exist, your child might assume it's an unspeakable crime.
What should I tell my child's teacher?
If possible, schedule a meeting with your child's teacher before the school year begins. Explain to her how you handle your child's stuttering at home and ask her to take the same patient, understanding approach. Tell her your child doesn't need any special treatment, although he may need extra help with reading aloud and similar assignments. Ask the teacher if your child can perform some of these tasks at home. Reading out loud to a parent can be great practice for a child who has trouble speaking in class.
Do I need to take my child to a speech therapist?
If your child shows signs of a stuttering problem, schedule an appointment with a speech therapist for an evaluation. Most school-age children who stutter will need one-on-one therapy with an expert. Therapists take many different approaches to stuttering, but most will focus on helping your child's speech become slower and more relaxed. If your child can learn to take his time without feeling flustered, he can probably conquer his problem. A speech expert might teach you how to conduct the therapy at home. Not surprisingly, the lessons seem to soak in even faster when parents deliver them.
Will my child's stuttering last forever?
Probably not. Experts estimate that about 80 percent of all children who stutter develop completely normal speech by the time they reach the age of 16. Older children who have been stuttering for several years, however, are more likely than others to have a continuing problem. Even if your child's stuttering is never "cured," he can continue to improve his speech patterns and lead the life he wants.
Stuttering Foundation of America
Michael Lawrence, David M. Barclay III, Stuttering: a brief review. American Family Physician June 1, 1998.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Stuttering. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/stutter.html