Stuttering is a form of disfluency — a break in the normal flow of sounds and words. Children who stutter experience a disruption in speech flow. Their sentences are disrupted by repetitions, prolongations of words or complete blocks of sound.
As children are learning to speak, many go through a stage between the ages of 2 and 5 when they stutter. For about 5 percent of these children, this phase will last six months or more. In many cases, children grow out of the stuttering. But for more than 3 million Americans, stuttering is a lifelong challenge. Many famous people have struggled with stuttering, including Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones and King George VI — whose story was the subject of the film The King’s Speech.
What causes stuttering?
Multiple factors contribute to stuttering. It involves a complex interaction between motor skills, brain differences, genetics and psychosocial variables, and the combination of factors differs from child to child.
When should you get help?
Since early intervention with speech therapy is the best way to help your child, it’s important to know what to look for. If by the age of 4, your child’s stuttering is frequent, continues to worsen, or if your child makes faces or other physical body movements while he stutters, you should call your pediatrician to find out how to have your child evaluated by a speech and language therapist. Some other signs to look for include:
- Your child avoids situations where she has to talk.
- Your child’s speech is especially difficult or strained.
- You child has vocal tension, rising pitch or loudness while talking.
- Your child changes a word for fear of stuttering.
How can you help?
There are many ways you can support your child as he learns to manage his speech.
- Never criticize your child for stuttering.
- Avoid correcting your child or asking her to “slow down” or “take a deep breath.” You may think you are being helpful, but these types of phrases tend to make children feel more self-conscious.
- Your child should not feel pressure to speak precisely. It’s OK for him to make mistakes while talking, and he should feel comfortable to do so.
- Don’t interrupt your child or ask her to start over. Make sure you allow a nice pause after your child speaks to make sure she is indeed finished talking.
- Let your child finish his own thoughts and sentences. Don’t do it for him.
- Keep eye contact with your child when she is speaking. When you look away, your child will get the impression that she has done something wrong.
- Speak slowly to your child so he can get used to taking his time when talking.
- Keep the home atmosphere as calm as possible. A hectic pace can cause anxiety and the stuttering can worsen.
- Don’t force your child to speak or read aloud when it is clearly not comfortable for her.
- Find out how speech therapy at CHOP has helped Calvin manage his stuttering, and how singing has made a huge impact on Calvin and his family.
- Make sure you, your child’s speech therapist and your child’s teacher work together to help everyone involved understand and deal effectively with your child’s stuttering to ensure the best outcome.