Speech Struggles

Why kids stutter and what to do about it.

As most people know, stuttering is a communication disorder that involves an interruption of the continuous flow of speech. Characterized by prolonged sounds, repetitions of words or phrases, frequent filler words like “uh” and “um,” and silence or verbal struggling before saying a word, stuttering is often accompanied by secondary behaviors, such as avoidance of eye contact or awkward movements of arms or legs to force out words. What people may not realize is that the disorder is cyclical in nature and symptoms can vary over time.

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. However, recent research suggests that a genetic link exists. Although stress often results in an increase in stuttering, it is not the origin. Rather, stuttering is commonly due to hereditary and affects five times more males than females.

Many preschool children between the ages of 2 and 5 experience signs of developmental dysfluencies or stuttering. One reason is that kids are still coordinating their speech patterns and acquiring language during this stage. While about 75 to 80 percent outgrow the disorder, there is no way of knowing for sure. Stuttering is complex and requires a speech-language pathologist with extensive experience treating the disorder to know for sure and help. The goal of working with young children who stutter is to eliminate dysfluencies while educating and involving parents.

Various direct and indirect therapy options are available for preschoolers who stutter. One direct therapy program is the Lidcombe Program for Early Childhood Stuttering. This behavioral treatment program has the parent comment on fluent speech and occasionally ask the child to correct stuttered speech. The program is highly effective and must be implemented with a Lidcombe trained speech pathologist. Other direct methods include stretching out words and modeling an easier speaking style in order to improve fluency. Indirect methods are generally provided in conjunction with direct interventions. The objective is to modify the child’s speaking environment to increase fluent speech while decreasing demands placed upon the child. All of these methods are most effective when working with a speech-pathologist experienced in stuttering.

Approximately one percent of the population stutters. For an extensive list of risk factors, visit stutteringhelp.org.

Get educated on ways to interact well with your children to nip stuttering in the bud. Suggestions include looking directly into your child’s eyes to show that you are truly listening to the message, reducing questioning and allowing extra pause time. Also, avoid putting your child in the spotlight such as by asking a question like, “Tell Aunt Rose what you did in school today.” This puts excessive pressure on the child.

Other pointers include: Avoid making comments like “talk slower.” Rather, attempt to model a slow, relaxed speech pattern. Delay responding to your child to allow for more pauses and reduce time pressure for the child. Likewise, try not to ask your child to repeat the stuttered sentence over again. It only increases awareness and frustration. Similarly, allow your child to finish sentences without interruption.

Once a child reaches the approximate age of 7, it becomes more difficult to stop stuttering. The approach used at this time is individualized to meet the client’s needs. Whatever method is used, it is important for parents to offer acceptance and unconditional love. Goals for the older child are not only to improve fluency but encourage effective communication skills and build self-esteem. Parents should be an integral part of the therapy process. Consult a speech-language pathologist for further direction if you suspect your child is stuttering.