Stuttering – What you need to know!

November 6th, 2018

What is Stuttering?

Stuttering is a disruption in the normal patterns of speech and includes repetition of sounds, syllables, or words, prolongation of sounds and silent blocks in speech. Many young children between the ages of 2 and 5 years go through periods of disfluency and may go back and forth between periods of fluency and disfluency. Most often disfluencies occur when a child is excited, tired, or feels rushed to speak. The first signs of stuttering tend to appear when a child is about 2 years old when there is a burst in vocabulary and children start putting words together to form short sentences.

What Causes Stuttering?

There is no certain cause for stuttering, but it is usually caused by a combination of factors. The following may be risk factors that may contribute to stuttering:

  • Family history of stuttering.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to stutter.
  • Co-occurring speech and language difficulties or delays.
  • Family dynamics (high family expectations and a fast-paced lifestyle).
  • People who stutter may process language in different areas of the brain. This can interfere with the interaction between brain’s messages and muscles and body parts needed for speaking.
  • High/increased activity level.
  • Fast speaking rate.

When to be concerned

Craig Coleman (Assistant professor at Marshall University) summarized the characteristics of normal disfluency vs higher risk for stuttering on the America-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) blog as follows:

Normal/Typical Disfluency Higher risk for Stuttering
Whole word or phrases repetitions (e.g. “then then he fell”; “I want I want I want a cookie”) Sound or syllable repetitions (e.g. “c-c-c…can I go?” “look at the di-di-di..dinosaur”)
Interjections (e.g. uh, maybe, uhm) Sound prolongations (e.g. “there’s a ssssssnake”)
No secondary behaviours Secondary behaviours (e.g. eye blinking, head nodding, hand tapping or throat clearing)
No tension or physical struggle when speaking Blocks (child tries to say sound/word, but cannot) and/or tension/struggle when speaking
No negative reaction or frustration Negative reaction or frustration to speaking
No family history of stuttering Family history of stuttering

If parents are concerned about their child’s fluency, they should discuss it with a Speech and Language Therapist or make an appointment to have their child’s fluency assessed by a Speech and Language Therapist.

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An assessment of a child’s fluency is usually recommended when:

  • The child has been stuttering for more than 6 months.
  • Prolongations of sounds and repetitions of sounds, words or phrases increase and become more consistent.
  • The child has any negative reactions toward speaking or avoids saying certain words or situations that require talking.
  • You notice increased physical or vocal tension and secondary behaviours (e.g., eye blinking, head nodding) along with stuttering.
  • Other speech and language difficulties are also present.
  • There is a family history of stuttering and your child presents with disfluencies.

What can parents do?

Family members can try and implement the following things to help a child who experiences disfluencies and encourage more fluent speech:

  • Model slow, clear, relaxed speaking to encourage more fluent speech from your child. Take short pauses between your utterances. Create opportunities for talking that are relaxed, fun, and enjoyable.
  • Don’t be too critical of your child’s speech and require your child to speak precisely or correctly at all times. Allow talking to be fun and enjoyable.
  • Find times to engage your child in conversations (i.e. dinner time) without distractions and interruptions such as TV or radio.
  • Avoid corrections or criticisms such as “slow down,” “think before you speak” or “take a deep breath.” These comments will make your child more self-conscious and can contribute to added tension while talking.
  • Avoid having your child speak, sing or read aloud in front of others when disfluencies are more and rather encourage participation in activities that don’t involve a lot of talking when your child is more disfluent, like physical play.
  • Don’t interrupt your child or finish his/her sentences for him. It’s important for the child to understand that people can communicate effectively even when they do stutter.
  • Provide a calm atmosphere in the home.
  • Maintain normal eye contact with your child and try not to look away or show signs of frustration or being upset about the disfluencies.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about stuttering and help him understand that disruptions in speech are normal and that everyone experiences them at times

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