The Truth about Stuttering
I receive many inquiries from parents who have noticed their child stuttering and are unsure about whether or not they should be worried. There is a great deal of information out there about stuttering and unfortunately a large amount of it is out of date or inaccurate. As a result, many parents come to me with misconceived ideas and worries about their child’s fluency. So in this article it is my mission to provide parents with some ‘truths’ about stuttering and some clear advice about when to seek help.
Firstly, it is important to recognise that all children have ‘disfluencies’ in their speech. Normal disfluencies happen occasionally and may come and go over time. They are usually a sign that the child is going through a period of rapid language development. Not surprisingly, stuttering is most common in children aged 3-4 years of age as they learn to use new words, tell short stories and build longer, more complex sentences.
Effortless repetitions of sounds or words (‘A-a-a big snake!’) is considered to be the ‘healthiest’ form of stuttering. Tension and struggling behaviours, such as eye twitching/closing, head movements, neck tension, ‘prolongations’ of sounds (e.g. ‘a ssssssssnake’), and pausing or appearing to hold the breath during speaking (called ‘silent blocking’) are indicators that the stutter may be more severe and more likely to persist. Regardless of the types of stuttering behaviours that are present, if your child’s stutter becomes more frequent and obvious over time and begins to interfere with their ability to express themselves effectively, the best course of action is to seek some advice.
Research tells us that around 75% of kindergarten children who stutter will naturally grow out of it. However, some children will not recover without necessary intervention from a Speech Pathologist. Treatment in early childhood aims to resolve or ‘get rid’ of a stutter. Intervention for adolescent and adult stuttering, however, aims to teach ways of coping with and reducing the severity of the stutter. It is therefore important to predict if your child’s stutter is likely to continue, and to seek help early if necessary.
So how do you know when to seek help, or when to ‘wait and see’? There are a number of questions that Speech Pathologists will ask when assessing a child’s ‘risk’ of persistent stuttering:
- Does your child have any signs of tension or struggling when they stutter?
- Does your child have a parent, sibling or other family member who stutters?
- Did you child begin stuttering after the age of 3 ½ years?
- Has your child been stuttering for longer than 6 months?
- Has your child experienced difficulties with delayed speech development? e.g. poor speech clarity or difficulty saying sounds clearly.
- Is your child male (boys are up to four times less likely to recover naturally)?
- Does your child become self conscious or frustrated when they stutter?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, my best advice is to seek advice from a qualified Speech Pathologist. We can assess the risk factors, recommend appropriate time frames for monitoring the stutter, and provide resources, such as a fluency diary, to help you keep an eye on how they are progressing (and help keep your mind at ease!)
Speech Pathologist and Director