What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a disorder of speech fluency that effects a person’s ability to use easy to produce, free flowing speech. Stuttering begins in childhood (typically around 3-5 years of age) and in some cases, can become a lifelong disorder. The type, frequency and severity of stuttering behaviours (known as disfluencies) can vary considerably among individuals. While all of us will experience brief and occasional disfluencies when we speak, a person with a stutter will experience frequent and uncontrollable disfluencies that interfere with their ability to easily and confidently express themselves. If your child has a stutter, advice from a Speech Pathologist is strongly recommended.
What should I do if my child starts stuttering?
Stuttering is common in early development and typically begins around 3 – 5 years of age. Research has shown that 75% of preschool aged children who stutter will naturally grow out of it. However, some children may not recover without intervention and will continue to stutter throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
When a stutter persists past childhood and into adolescence, it becomes increasingly resistant to treatment approaches that aim to resolve or ‘get rid’ of the stutter. Intervention for adolescent and adult stuttering instead teaches the person how to cope with and reduce the severity of their stutter. Treatment for stuttering in early childhood, however, can effectively resolve the stutter and prevent it from becoming a lifelong condition. It is therefore important to predict whether or not your child’s stutter is likely to continue.
Intervention may be recommended if your child demonstrates one or more of the following ‘risk factors’:
- Your child is 5 years or older and has a stutter.
- Your child has been stuttering for over 6 months.
- Your child’s stutter has become more frequent and severe over time.
- Your child’s stuttering behaviours include the use of fixed postures (silent blocking or prolongations).
- Your child has secondary behaviours that accompany their stutter.
- There is a family history of stuttering.
- Your child experiences shame, anxiety or lack of self-esteem as a result of their stutter.
Advice from a Speech Pathologist is recommended for any parents who are concerned about their child’s ability to use fluent speech. Learn & Grow offer free initial parent consultations and are happy to offer you honest, obligation-free advice about your child’s development. The therapist will gather information and evaluate whether your child’s stutter requires intervention, or should simply be monitored for a period of time. Advice about how to respond appropriately to your child’s stuttering behaviours may also be provided.
What are the signs and symptoms of stuttering?
The types of disfluencies used in speech will vary among individuals and are explained below:
Repeated movements are the most commonly seen disfluencies and involve the repetition of a sound, word or group of words.
• Sound repetition: “W-w-w-here are you going?”
• Word repetition: “Where, where, where are you going?”
• Phrase repetition: “Where are you, where are you, where are you going?”
Fixed postures result when the muscles of the mouth stop moving and remain in one position, appearing to become ‘stuck’.
• Silent blocking: the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, but no sound or voice is produced.
• Prolongations: the mouth is unable to smoothly transition from one sound to the next and will appear to become ‘stuck’ on a sound. The sound will be stretched out as a result. “Look mummy, a ssssssssnake”.
Secondary behaviours are behaviours that may be associated with the stuttering moment.
• Tension: excessive muscle tension, often in the shoulders, neck and throat area, may accompany stuttering behaviours. Muscle tension commonly occurs during fixed postures.
• Associated movements: closing or rapid blinking of the eyes, facial contortions, tremors or twitches, and involuntary movements of the head and body may accompany a stutter.
• Interjections: such as “um”, “ah”, “like” can occur excessively, or may be used intentionally in an effort to delay the initiation of a ‘troublesome’ word (one that the speaker knows they often get ‘stuck’ on).
What causes stuttering?
There are many theories and popular beliefs about what causes stuttering, however the exact cause remains unclear. Research studies have demonstrated that genetics (a family history of stuttering) may play a role in the disorder. Whatever the cause may be, we do know that stuttering results from problems in the neural processing (brain activity) that underlies speech. The result is an impaired ability to string together the muscle movements required to produce easy flowing, fluent speech. Stuttering is a physical disorder and is not caused by parenting practices or psychological factors such as anxiety or stress.
Every person with a stutter will experience their own personal ‘triggers’ that cause stuttering to increase. Stuttering can fluctuate across hours of the day, days of the week and even months of the year. Some children will stutter in the afternoon when they are tired from school but will experience relatively smooth speech during the school holiday months. Some will not stutter much at home but will stutter consistently with new people or in unfamiliar situations. Many children are more likely to stutter when they are in a heightened emotional state (such as feeling excited or anxious) or when they are faced with certain communication situations (such as talking on the phone or in large groups of people). Children may avoid or become excluded from participating in activities as a result of their stutter.