Help – my child has a stutter
Have you noticed that your little one gets stuck when verbalising?
Maybe they repeat sounds within a word, like saying ‘pu-pu-pu-puppy’. Or perhaps they prolong sounds for a long time (ssssssssssnake). They might just seem to have trouble ‘getting out’ the sounds they want to make.
Most of us stumble over our words sometimes. Our speech is made through a series of coordinated movements in our throat, palate, tongue and lips, so it’s fair enough that things can sometimes misfire.
But while the occasional speech disfluency is normal, if it happens a lot, it may be due to a stutter.
When kids develop a stutter, it can lead to them being left behind, both in school and socially resulting in a loss of confidence. Research indicates that the emotional impact a stutter can have on a child is one of the biggest reasons to be concerned.
Let’s take a deeper look into what stuttering is, what causes it, and what you can do about it.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a more common speech disorder than you may think. Research suggests that the overall prevalence of stuttering in Australia is approximately 1%, equating to around 233,000 people.
Although stuttering can affect people of all ages, it mostly occurs in children between the ages of 2 and 6. It’s most often found in boys, although it’s not entirely clear why.
There are many different characteristics of stuttering which are outlined below, but basically anything that interrupts the fluency or flow of speech could be considered as a ‘stutter’.
Symptoms of stuttering
While every child is different, there are a few common characteristics that can indicate stuttering:
- Repeating sounds, syllables, words or phrases
- Talking slowly and pausing a lot
- Prolonging sounds
- Long pauses between words (known as blocks)
- Insertion of words or sounds (e.g. um)
- An uneven rate of speech
- A noticeable change in speech when the child is tired, excited, or stressed
- A reluctance to talk, especially in groups
These signs might be accompanied by physical signs of distress such as facial tics, rapid blinking or tremors in the jaw.
What causes stuttering?
There is no single cause of stuttering. Possible causes may include:
Genetics – Approximately 60% of stutterers have a family member who does also.
Development – Kids with other developmental delays are more likely to stutter.
Neurophysiology – People who stutter process speech slightly differently than those who do not.
What are the different types of stuttering?
The three main types of stuttering are developmental, neurogenic, or psychogenic stuttering. Let’s quickly look at each.
This is the most common type of stuttering and occurs in children as their speech and language processes are developing. Although some children will grow out of their developmental stutters, usually within 6 months, this is not the case for all children. It is best to speak to a Speech Pathologist as soon as you notice your child is stuttering. They will be able to guide you on whether to wait and see if they grow out of it with minimal intervention or if therapy is required.
This type of stuttering originates from signal problems between the brain and other nerves and muscles required for speech. It can also occur after a stroke, head trauma, or other brain injuries.
This form of stuttering is thought to originate in the area of the brain that’s responsible for thought and reasoning. It may occur in people with a mental illness, or those who have experienced significant mental or emotional stress.
How is stuttering diagnosed?
Stuttering is diagnosed by a Speech Pathologist. They will carefully assess a number of factors, including:
- Detailed history of your child’s speech and language development
- Evaluation of the child’s speech and language abilities
- How your child reacts emotionally when they stutter
- How the child tries to ‘fix’ their speech
- The impact these difficulties are having on the child’s ability to learn and socialise
The evaluations and tests themselves are fun and natural. We use play-based activities to observe your little one in a positive environment.
How can speech therapy help my stuttering child?
There are different ways to treat stuttering, and Speech Therapists are trained to tailor the right solution for your child’s unique needs and preferences. We use a combination of direct and indirect strategies to give kids the guidance they need to reduce the frequency and severity of their stutter.
Direct strategies might include working one on one with your child to change how they speak (i.e. syllable timed “robot” speech or slurred speech). Indirect strategies include using praise and positive verbal reinforcement in response to non-stuttered speech. These indirect strategies are part of the Lidcombe Program and are highly evidence based to get effective results in children under 6 years of age. An example of an indirect strategy for an older child might include visual reminders to use their new pattern of speech they have learnt.
The exact strategies we use will take into consideration your child’s age, evidence of approaches, your expectations from the treatment, and of course the child’s own tolerance for different therapies. It’s always our aim to make speech therapy a fun, productive and positive experience – for everyone!
At SpeechEase, we also work with parents and other family members too. We help you understand how to respond when your child stutters, how you can help improve their fluency, and what you can do to make talking a more positive experience for them.
Where to get help
If you’re concerned with your child’s speech development, it’s never too early (or too late) to get help. Contact us at SpeechEase as soon as you notice that your child is stuttering and especially if it has been happening for more than six months.
We offer a free 15 minute phone consultation.