Stuttering, or stammering as it is also sometimes called, is a communication disorder that affects about 1% of the population worldwide. This means that approximately 3 million people in America are stutterers. If your child is showing signs of stuttering you may have questions about what it means, why it started and how you can help.
1- Determine if your child has a stutter
A stutter is a disruption in the flow of language. People who stutter may produce words which sound lllllllike that, li-li-li-like this, or it can liiiiiiike this. Stuttering is also an absence of sound where the flow of language stops completely. People who stutter sometimes also experience facial ticks or other unusual body movements. The most important thing to know is that research does NOT support the notion that children who stutter have been psychologically abused nor is there any current theory validating emotional trauma as a cause. Most experts think that stuttering can be caused any combination of the following: genetics (sometimes it runs in families), child development (meaning a combination of other communication disorders), neurophysiology (where the brain processes speech and communication differently than others), or family dynamics (where there is high pressure and a fast pace). To determine if your child has a stutter, you should see your pediatrician or a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).
2- How to help your child communicate
Many parents don’t know how to respond when when their child begins to stutter. Sometimes well meaning family members will look away during moments of stuttering, interrupt the person, fill in words, or simply not talk to people who stutters. Children who stutter want to communicate just like any other child. Their awareness of their disfluency can lead them to feel pressure to speak faster. “Under such conditions, people who stutter often have even more difficultly saying what they want to say in a smooth, timely manner. Therefore, listeners who appear impatient or annoyed may actually make it harder for people who stutter to speak.” (ASHA.org) It’s most important to let your child finish at his or her own pace. Don’t remind them to slow down or take a breath. The problem is not physical and they aren’t intentionally rushing.
3- Where to get help
The first thing you may want to do is schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician or other main healthcare provider. They will be able to help you assess if your child is stuttering or if it’s a developmental “bump” in the road. Many children stumble over words and sounds as they are learning language. A child with a stutter will continue to do so for more than 6 months and it will inhibit their ability on a daily basis to communicate. After your pediatrician diagnoses a stutter, you may seek the advice and treatment of a certified speech-language pathologist, who can help you and your child to develop speaking strategies. A few online resources that may be helpful are:
The Stuttering Foundation
American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Sometimes it can be frustrating and heartbreaking to hear your child stutter, annoyed or discouraged by their own communication, it’s important to remember that stuttering itself is not harmful. Your child isn’t lacking anything and he or she will very likely find ways to cope with and thrive in spite their stutter. Be willing to seek help early, and work with a therapist and your child, to ensure their future communication success.