Stuttering in children
Is my child stuttering or is this normal?
A blog written by our Northern Beaches Sydney local speech pathologist, Michaela Spagnol.
Many parents arrive at this question when they notice their child beginning to have disfluencies in their speech. This commonly happens at a young age, when their child’s language is rapidly expanding and they are starting to put words together in longer phrases.
Determining whether your child is displaying typical disfluency or an actual stutter can be difficult and may require the assistance of a qualified Speech and Language Pathologist. Natural hesitations and repetitions are part of everyday speech for children and adults. However, the basic difference is that stuttering goes beyond natural “um’s and er’s” so much that it gets in the way of the child being able to effectively and efficiently communicate. In my experience, parents generally know when their child isn’t able to get their words out smoothly, which is the biggest indicator of a stutter.
It helps to know the various forms in which a stutter can appear. Stuttering can include:
1) Repetitions of part syllables (Ca- ca- ca- can I have one?), whole syllables (That- that- that- that one is mine), or multiple syllables (But why- but why- but why are we going?).
2) Prolongations and blocks where the child will stretch out a sound, e.g. “I’m fffffishing”, or where they appear to get stuck and no sound comes out, e.g. “I —don’t know”.
3) Extraneous behaviours that may or may not involve speech but may include grimacing, blinking, and other; mouth, eye and head movements. These are more likely to be seen in cases of severe stuttering.
Research tells us that some pre-schoolers who stutter naturally resolve but this research doesn’t tell us how to predict which children will recover naturally and which children will continue to stutter into adulthood. We are far from knowing all the answers to our questions but we do know some things including:
Stuttering runs in families and it can come on suddenly. Stuttering frequency and severity can fluctuate over time. It can be worse when children are excited or tired and is not related to children’s intelligence, language skills or speech sound production. It is likely to be a fleeting error in the way the brain plans speech.
Once it has been identified that a child is stuttering, that next question is often regarding when to begin speech therapy. It is recommended parents seek therapy if their child has been stuttering for more than 6 months, is school-aged or about to start school, is showing signs of distress and frustration when speaking or if there is a family history of stuttering. Studies show that children who stutter are more likely to be bullied by peers when compared to children who do not stutter. Beginning therapy sooner rather than later may help to avoid these negative experiences which can have a lasting impact.
Early intervention for stuttering is important for children in the same way that early intervention for language development and motor development is of crucial importance to their long term outcomes. While stuttering is not caused by anxiety, there is a link between long term stuttering and anxiety. Potential short and long-term impacts of untreated stuttering include increased social anxiety, avoidance of situations, reduced verbal output, reduced quality of life, reduced educational and employment opportunities. Consult a speech therapist about your child now.
Fortunately, evidence-based treatments for children who stutter do exist! The Lidcombe Program, developed by the team at the University of Sydney, currently has the best evidence for treating children who stutter, with a 7-8 times better chance of recovery than no therapy. Working with a Speech and Language Pathologist trained in the Lidcombe Program can help you to find some answers and give your child the support they need to be a smooth and effective communicator. Our Speech Pathologist Michaela is also trained in the Spalding method for literacy development,PROMPT therapy for speech sound disorders and the Lidcombe program for children who stutter.