Stuttering is a communication disorder characterized by disruptions in the forward flow of speech (“speech disfluencies”), such as repetitions of parts of words, prolongations of sounds, or complete blockages of sound. Speech disfluencies may be accompanied by physical tension or struggle, though many young children do not exhibit such tension in the early stages of the disorder. Stuttering is highly variable – sometimes a child will stutter a lot and sometimes the child will speak fluently
Approximately 5% of preschool children stutter. The average age of stuttering onset is 34 months (two years, ten months old). Approximately 90% of stuttering cases start before the age of four.
What Causes Stuttering?
There is no single cause of stuttering. Current research indicates that many different factors play a role in the development of stuttering, including genetic inheritance, the child’s language skills, the child’s ability to move his or her mouth when speaking, the child’s temperament, and the reactions of those in the child’s environment.
What is the difference between normal disfluency and stuttering?
Normal disfluency” is common from ages 2-5. Normal disfluencies are without tension and include whole-word repetitions, phrase repetitions, hesitations, interjections (‘ah’ ‘um’), and revisions. All speakers, of all ages, experience normal disfluencies. Abnormal disfluencies include: part word repetitions (b-b-ball), prolongations of first sound, blocks (where airflow is stopped), tense whole-word repetitions, and other physical symptoms of tension. These abnormal disfluencies suggest the child is at high risk for progressively developing stuttering behaviors, and indicate a need for proper intervention.
What do you do if you suspect your child is stuttering?
Seek the help of a speech/language pathologist (SLP) experienced with stuttering. Often, doctors and family members will say, “Wait, the child will grow out of it.” This is generally incorrect and increases family tension. Consult with an SLP for advice. He or she may monitor the child or provide parents with information to help their child. The SLP might use a direct therapeutic approach with the child or with both the child and parents.
Be a good listener— pay close attention to what is being said, not how it is being said. Look directly into your child’s eyes to show you are truly listening.
Limit questions to decrease demands placed on the child.
Avoid putting the child on the spot— “Tell Aunt Farah what you did in school today.”
Avoid comments like “talk slower.” Instead, model a slow, relaxed speech pattern, after asking an SLP to demonstrate this.
Delay responding to allow for more pauses and to lessen time-related pressure on the child.
Don’t ask the child to repeat the sentence, which increases frustration.
Remember it is not your fault. Parents are not to blame.
Dana Naser MSc Speech Language pathologist +962 79 633 789 5