June 3, 2021 0

Children's stuttering: Should you be worried?

Stuttering is a complicated speech problem. The cause and recovery is still a bit of a mystery. It can be very frustrating for those who live with it. This article describes what you need to know about stuttering, when you should be concerned about it, and where to find information that is appropriate for your child.

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is defined as a lack of pronunciation. Fluency is the ability to speak fluently, accurately and confidently. Nonfluency is the opposite: Speakers struggle with sounds and the physical process of speaking. People who stutter may sometimes feel tension in the muscles of the face, head and neck. They may even lose their voice for a few seconds as they struggle with words. Many children will experience confusion as they learn to speak. Starting around 18 months of age (or earlier), a child may occasionally stutter as they work on new sounds and vocabulary.

Usually this type of sloppiness involves repeating a word. It probably doesn't bother your child when this happens. For example, your child will say, "I-I like ice cream," but will not show any signs of tension or struggle. You may also notice that your child is most discouraged when he is tired or rushes to say words faster than he can say them. Children who stutter as a speech problem often struggle with the syllable rather than the whole word, and may repeat the sound more than a few times. Your child may even ask you why it is difficult for them to speak. You may notice that your child's eyes, neck, and mouth are strained as they work through the speech difficulty. Signs like these are fairly consistent and do not seem to be related to whether the child is tired or excited. Of course, some children will have mild symptoms and others will have more severe symptoms.

Does a child's stuttering need treatment?

Therapists vary on the proper timing of treatment for stuttering, as well as the best treatment methods. An article published a few years ago caught the attention of the media because it seemed to suggest that children do not need treatment at all and will resolve their stuttering as they grow up. However, the researchers suggested that some children will not need clinical therapy and that their stuttering will end on its own. This sometimes happens with a little help at home, or as the child grows up.

Many researchers now suggest that all stutterers should be assessed for specific information including:

  • The child's age. If a child still stutters by age 5 or begins to stutter after age 3, he or she may benefit from therapy.
  • The child's gender. Boys may be more likely to stutter longer than girls.
  • Family history. Stuttering appears to be genetic, meaning it runs in families.
  • The severity of the child's stuttering. Those who stutter more are more likely to benefit from working with a qualified professional.
  • Cause of stuttering. Periods of severe stress can precede the onset of stuttering, so knowing what's going on in a child's life is helpful for professionals who are evaluating whether speech therapy will make a difference.

When to seek help for stuttering in a child?

If your child stutters and a professional says therapy will help, it's best not to wait. Research shows that the later a child receives stuttering therapy, the more difficult it will be to resolve the problem. Additionally, stuttering can cause changes in a child's social skills and physical condition. Early therapy can have a real impact on your child's development.

You may wonder why all children are not treated for stuttering. If speech therapy can help, why not try it? Some research suggests that focusing on stuttering, by parents, teachers and therapists, may actually make the problem worse for many children. Stuttering seems to resolve itself in the same number of children, regardless of whether they receive therapy. Many experts say that it is a good idea to let some children "grow out of it" if they have been evaluated for these points of information listed above.

Where to seek help for stuttering

If your child is evaluated for stuttering, you will find helpful information from these organizations.

  • The Stuttering Foundation has extensive information for families affected by stuttering. At www.stutteringhelp.org, you can find inspiring stories of people who stutter who are doing great despite their speech problem.
  • The National Stuttering Association is a good source of information on local support groups. They also provide information to help people, from adults to children, cope with stuttering. Other people with similar experiences can be found at www.westutter.org.
  • The International Stuttering Association offers information from around the world and publishes an annual newsletter that includes current research findings and book recommendations. The ISA's helpful website can be translated into over 40 languages with the click of a mouse. Check them out at www.isastutter.org.

Next steps
Researchers have noted that parents are often more upset about stuttering than children. It is important to keep this in mind. If you notice your child stuttering, give them some time to figure out if it is a developmental stage or an actual speech problem. If you still think stuttering is a problem, talk to your doctor to address the issue as soon as possible.

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