As children grow and become more verbal, it’s common for them to stutter and trip over their words. But, if it is severe or continues for a long time, you may start to worry if they have an articulation difficulty. A speech impediment can affect a child’s communication skills and developmental experience. Since it is such a normal occurrence, we’ve outlined what is typical and what should concern you.
What is Stuttering?
(opens in a new tab) is a speech disorder characterized by repetition of sounds, syllables, or words; prolongation of sounds; and interruptions in speech known as blocks. Stuttering can occur in people of all ages, but most commonly affects children from ages 2 to 6 as they develop. A child who stutters knows what they are trying to say, but has difficulty getting the words out. It may be accompanied by physical struggle behaviors like blinking rapidly or lip tremors. Symptoms of stuttering can vary throughout the day and can be exacerbated by circumstances like speaking in front of a group. They could also be reduced while singing or reading.
If your child is stuttering, it is possible that they are exhibiting normal disfluency that accompanies growing up and learning to speak. Most children experience this and grow out of it, but certain signs can point to it being a more severe stuttering problem.
Typical, or developmental stuttering, occurs in children when they are still learning to speak and getting the hang of language skills. It is believed that developmental stuttering occurs because a child’s speech abilities have not caught up to a child’s verbal demands. Stuttering could also run in families, as (opens in a new tab) shows there are certain genetic factors that can contribute to developmental stuttering. Developmental stuttering is the most common type of stuttering and is usually not cause for concern.
Some ways to know if your child is experiencing (opens in a new tab) are:
- They occasionally repeat words or syllables once or twice, which sounds like: thi-thi-this.
- They may hesitate on words and use filler words often, like “um,” “er,” and “uh.”
- The child is experiencing these disfluencies between the ages of 1 and 6 years old.
- The stuttering comes and goes, disappearing for several weeks and then returning.
- There is no visible tension or struggle when speaking.
- There is no negative reaction, frustration, or other problematic behaviors when stuttering.
- Stuttering lasts less than 6 months.
These are signs that point to children going through a stage of learning, rather than developing a concerning speech problem.
Stuttering That Can Be A Cause for Concern
If your child is experiencing disfluency for an extended time or is especially struggling, this could point to a mild or severe stuttering problem. It’s important to be vigilant about symptoms as something that seems like a phase could actually be a long-term problem.
Some signs that your child may have a (opens in a new tab) are:
- A child repeats syllables more than twice, li-li-li-li-like this.
- There is evident tension and struggle in the facial muscles, especially around the mouth.
- They experience a “block,” in which it seems like the child is trying to make a sound but can’t.
- Disfluencies come and go, but now are more present than they are absent.
- The pitch of voice may rise with repetitions
Some signs that your child has a (opens in a new tab) include:
- Your child stutters on more than 10% of their speech.
- They stutter with considerable effort and tension and avoid stuttering by changing words or using extra sounds to get started.
- Sound prolongations (“They went ssssssssomewhere”).
- Complete blocks of speech become more common than repetitions or prolongations.
- They exhibit secondary behaviors while speaking, like eye blinking, hand tapping, clearing their throat, etc.
- They show frustration or negative reactions when attempting to speak.
- Disfluencies are now present in most of their speaking situations.
- They have a family history of stuttering.
- The disfluency lasts for more than 6 months.
Many of these signs can imply an articulation difficulty in your child. If you feel your child has a disfluency problem, they can benefit from seeking a speech pathologist to receive therapy and treatment.
How to Support Your Child When They are Stuttering
Early treatment of speech disfluencies may prevent stuttering from becoming a lifelong problem. As you and your child work through their speech impediment with a speech pathologist or other professional, it is important that you learn some skills too. A part of treatment for stuttering often includes teaching parents ways to support their child’s learning of fluent speech.
If your child has a severe stutter, here are some tips for clear, supportive communication:
- Try to use slow and relaxed speech when talking with your child, and encourage your family members to do the same.
- Set some time out in the day for your child to have one parent’s undivided attention and allow them to speak everything that’s on their mind without the added pressures of quick conversations between more than two people.
- When your child speaks to you or asks a question, try to take a small pause before responding so that your child feels less hurried.
- Try not to interrupt your child or hurry along an answer. Listen attentively and wait for them to get the words out.
- Try not to be annoyed or visibly affected when your child is stuttering. They are trying their best to cope with new language skills and a parent’s patient attitude will help them to improve.
- If they are getting frustrated or upset when their stuttering is worse, do your best to reassure them. A few reassuring words or a gentle touch or hug can relieve some of the negative emotions they feel when they can’t communicate the way they would like to.
Stuttering is often a normal part of childhood development, but in some cases, it can be a severe speech problem that persists. Certain therapies and (opens in a new tab) can help children learn to improve their speech fluency and develop a positive attitude towards communication. In addition to the list of signs above related to severe stuttering, it is recommended that your child be evaluated if they have been stuttering for 3 to 6 months and exhibit struggle behaviors, or if they have a family history of stuttering.
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