One of the great joys of parenting is listening to your child learn to speak. However, for some, this process causes concern, frustration, and social isolation.
"I couldn't wait until Cooper could talk. Now, every time he speaks I'm a nervous wreck," admits Susan, a mother of a seven-year-old child that stutters. "Everyone kept telling me he would outgrow it (stuttering), but he didn't. Soon after his fifth birthday, I knew I had to get help."
Learning to speak isn't easy. Speech requires rapid and intricate movements of the tongue, lips, jaw, vocal cords, and teeth. In addition, precise timing of the muscles for breathing and sound production is necessary to a child's ability to speak. Many factors can interrupt these processes.
Most children will speak normally by the time they enter kindergarten, but some will continue to have a speech or language disorder. A speech disorder occurs when a child has difficulty putting sounds together to form words. Stuttering is one of several speech disorders that cause disfluency in a person's ability to speak.
Stuttering is characterized by a repetition of sounds or syllables, usually at the beginning of words. For example, "Mommy went to the s-s-store", or "That ba-ba-baby is crying." These repetitions and prolongations are often accompanied by tightness in the speech muscles, changes in the pitch or volume of the voice, and facial expressions of fear. Frequent occurrence of such behaviors is considered stuttering.
This type of disruption in the flow of speech most often develops between the ages of two and five when a child's vocabulary is developing at a rapid rate. However, as a child begins to reach school age, stuttering becomes less evident.
The Speech Foundation of America has identified the following criteria as warning signs of disfluency associated with stuttering:
There are multiple reasons a child will stutter and several practices that may worsen an existing stuttering problem.
As a parent, if you are concerned about your child's speech, ask your pediatrician for advice and a referral to a speech-language pathologist—a professional trained to test and treat individuals with speech, language, and voice disorders. This is especially appropriate if your child's stuttering persists for more than six months.
Early identification and treatment of speech and language disorders is important to improving communication skills. The goal of early intervention therapy is to build a foundation for fluent speech by helping the child to view speaking as easy and enjoyable instead of difficult and dreadful.
Many children outgrow stuttering without therapy. However, it is difficult to determine who will and who will not. If the nature of the problem is associated with a physical tension of the speech muscles, it is less likely to be outgrown.
At this time there is no cure for stuttering. However, early intervention and continued therapy can control the stuttering, resulting in a normal flow of speech. Most therapy programs will focus on specific speech techniques as well as the psychological issues associated with stuttering.
As a parent, you play a significant role in your child's speech and language development. The way you communicate with your child is important. A child who stutters needs extra patience and encouragement. But the results are worth it!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when having a conversation with your child:
Share these tips with the child's siblings, teachers, and caregiver.
The more you understand your child's stuttering, the more you can help. With patience and understanding, you can help eliminate much of the frustration and anger associated with stuttering, and encourage your child's communication.
The National Stuttering Association
The Stuttering Foundation
Canadian Stuttering Association
Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research
Stuttering. KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/stutter.html. Updated October 2010. Updated July 2013. Accessed December 24, 2013.
Stuttering info. National Stuttering Institute website. Available at: http://www.nsastutter.org/stutteringInformation/generalInformation.html. Accessed December 24, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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