Stuttering is a speech disorder characterized by disruptions in the forward flow of speech. These disruptions usually begin as repetitions of sounds, whole words or phrases.
Children who stutter may:
- Prolong sounds in a word (such as baaaaaall)
- Have difficulty coordinating breathing and speech
- Insert a neutral vowel (ma ma ma ma meatball)
- Struggle or get tense while saying words
- Alter pitch or loudness while speaking
- Avoid talking because of fear of stuttering.
Stuttering usually begins between 2 and 5 years of age, when speech and language skills develop. As many as 5 percent of children will stutter for six months or more. Most of them will recover by late childhood.
How stuttering affects children
Children are sensitive to the ways in which they are different from others, so speech disruptions may make your child feel shy or embarrassed or afraid to speak to others. In general, children who have more severe speech disruptions are more likely to feel speech-related frustrations, fears and anxieties.
Stuttering treatment is most successful when started before these negative speech-related attitudes develop. Therefore, early identification and intervention of stuttering are important for successful treatment.
How you can help your child
- Avoid offering suggestions to "fix" your child's stuttering. A natural impulse is to tell your child to slow down, relax or take a deep breath before speaking. Although these suggestions sometimes help, they often increase your child's stuttering, frustration and anxiety.
- Listen attentively to what your child is saying, not how he is speaking. Use natural facial expressions, eye contact and other body language to provide positive feedback on the content of your child's speech.
- Adopt a relatively slow rate of speech with frequent pauses. Give your child extra time to speak by pausing for several seconds before responding. Encourage all family members to use this slower, more relaxed rate.
- Reduce interruptions and competition for speaking by promoting turn-taking and listening skills for all family members.
- Promote open and honest talk about stuttering. Use words like "bumpy speech" or "getting stuck" to explore your child's feelings about stuttering.
- If you have any concerns about your child's speech, contact a speech-language pathologist who specializes in stuttering to discuss your fears.