What is stuttering?
Stuttering is when children repeat phrases, words or syllables over and over (eg, “I-I-I-I saw a dog”), make long, prolonged sounds (eg, “I ssssssssaw a dog”), have speech “stoppages” or “blocks” where no sounds come out (e.g., “I saw a d——og.”). Stuttering can start quite suddenly, or it can begin gradually over days, weeks, or months.
Studies suggest that at least 5% of preschoolers will experience moments of stuttering, known as normal or episodic stuttering. At least 80% will recover, with or without therapy. People who stutter make up 1% of the adult population.
What to do if your toddler or preschooler is stuttering:
- Speak in a slow and relaxed pace with your child.
- Pause when he is talking and allow him to speak uninterrupted.
- Listen to the message of what she is saying versus commenting on her stuttering.
- Refrain from telling him to stop, say it again, or slow down.
- Give your child periods of undivided attention during the day and allow her to talk to you without distractions.
- Do not finish her sentences for her, instead allow her to finish what she is saying.
- Optimize times that he is talking fluently. For example, if he seems to speak more fluently during play, increase the time of day that you are interacting with him in a relaxed and play-based way. If he stutters more when answering questions, refrain from asking too many questions and instead make statements.
- Go to stutteringhelp.org for more tips and strategies.
The Stuttering Foundation outlines five risk factors that place children at risk for long-term stuttering. 80% of children who display episodic stuttering during preschool years will outgrow it within 12-24 months. The risk factors for continuing to stutter beyond this typical period are as follows:
- Family history: almost half of all children who stutter have a family member who stutters.
- Age of onset: children who begin stuttering before 3 and a half are more likely to outgrow stuttering.
- Time since onset: 75-80% of children who begin stuttering will stop within 12-24 months without speech therapy.
- Gender: Girls are more likely to outgrow stuttering than boys.
- Other speech and language factors: Speech sound errors and other language deficits are a risk factor for continuing stuttering. Advanced language skills are also a risk factor for children whose stuttering persists.
When should you seek therapy for your child:
- If your child has some of the risk factors noted above.
- If your child appears to be frustrated, aware of his stuttering, showing tension or secondary behaviors (eye blinking, facial tension, hitting his leg, etc.) or avoiding speaking.
- If he or she has been stuttering for longer than 12 months.
What does therapy look like?
Often, a direct therapy approach is not recommended for young children if they are not aware or bothered by their stuttering. A more direct therapy approach may in fact even backfire, depending on how it is delivered, by making a child self-conscious of his stuttering. When people who stutter try not to stutter, they often increase their tension due to increased stress/arousal and trying to “escape” the stuttering episode, which can actually lead to an increase in stuttering severity. Therapy strategies will include modeling slow, relaxed speech during play-based sessions, modeling easy and typical disfluencies in a relaxed way, and providing the child with opportunities to speak freely and uninterrupted in a calm environment. The speech pathologist will provide parent education and counseling as well. If a more direct therapy approach is needed, a child will be taught ways to speak in a slower, more relaxed way, with less tension and more fluid movements. It is important that the child is also educated that it is okay to make mistakes when talking, as everyone has moments when we repeat words, revise sentences, and use interjections, such as “um.”
Some studies suggest that taking Thiamin (B1) and Magnesium help reduce or even eliminate stuttering in certain individuals. Information regarding this can be found at stuttering.com. Before attempting to take a new medication or supplement, be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician.
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