A parent can become concerned when their young child has trouble getting their words out. This can be recognized as stuttering or stammering. Stuttered speech can include the repetition of words or parts of words, or, extending speech sounds.
The first question the parent asks is “is this normal?” The second question is “where do I go to make sure this is not a long-term problem?”
A young child beginning to develop their language skills may temporarily stutter. Learning to communicate through speech presents challenges to children as their speaking skills are trying to catch up with the speed of their mind and sometimes lack of personal patience. While most stuttering is outgrown, a stutter can continue into adulthood. Here are some considerations, as stated in the A Guide for Parents of Children Who Stutter:
- When the child involuntarily prolongs sounds, is unable to produce certain sounds, or repeats a sound, we can say he or she is at risk for stuttering. Stuttering will usually begin between the ages of three and six. Onset is usually gradual but may be quite sudden.
- At the time most children are developing complex speech and language skills, a lot is happening. It is a difficult process. They may repeat words and phrases and use many “ands” while they are formulating a sentence. This type of behavior is normal.
- If the majority of your child’s “stutterings” are part-word repetitions (Mo-mo-mommy), if many of them consist of three or more repetitions per sound, (e.g., b-b-b-ball), if you child prolongs sounds for more than a second or so (ssssssoup), or shows signs of struggling to “get his words out,” we can start thinking in terms of the child’s “stuttering,” and begin to formulate what to do about it.
It is important to monitor any changes in the form of dysfluency with the 2-3 year olds. If you find they are using their bodies to help get the sound out (blinking, stamping foot, opening the mouth widely, etc.) says something, such as: ‘I can’t talk’ or ‘it’s hard to say,’ a speech evaluation is recommended. The speech pathologist will determine if the child’s dysfluency is language-based and normal or is symptomatic of ‘true’ stuttering whereby therapy would be beneficial. In either case, recommendations to increase fluent speech will be given to you.
The most important recommendation for parents, teachers, caregivers, and grandparents is to speak very slowly to your children when dysfluency occurs. This will help ‘slow the child’s speech’ and alleviate the pressure of having to speak quickly.
With children 4 years or older it is important to ask them questions to determine if they are experiencing difficulty speaking. You might say: ‘That seemed hard to say’ or ‘Is it difficult for you to get the words out?’ This opens up the opportunity to discuss speech and make a decision whether or not to take the child for an evaluation.
Don’t tell your child to ‘think before they speak’ or ‘slow down.’ These types of statements can be interpreted as criticism by the child and suggest that the child can do something they are not able to do.
In the decision of taking the child to a speech therapist, the The Stuttering Foundation says “Unfortunately, there are no firm guidelines about the best time to start therapy although most speech-language pathologists will recommend starting therapy within 6-12 months after you have first noticed the stuttering. One thing we do know, though, is that all children can benefit from therapy, although the outcomes are different for different children.”
The parent of a child that seems to have a stutter should continue to learn about this speech dysfluency and seek guidance from a qualified Speech-language Pathologist. Beth Fine is experienced and ready to help a concerned parent. Contact Beth. She would be pleased to help a parent to better understand this very important issue for their child.