I’ve talked about a few common speech concerns over the past few weeks. Read about articulation here. You can find information on language here and here. Another concern that come up with preschoolers is stuttering.
What is Stuttering?
We all stutter in our speech. Even when watching new anchors, you can see them repeat a word or sound, say um, or rephrase somethings they say. Stuttering is when a child repeats parts of a words or parts of sentences. Many children will stutter between the ages of 2 years and 5 years of age as they go through different developmental stages. You might see it get worse than better. You might hear it and realize it has been weeks since the last time you heard it. It will be effortless repeating with no tension in the face or frustration. The child may not even notice it. The following information is adapted from the Stuttering Foundation. You can find that website here.
Typical Stuttering in Preschoolers ages 2-5
- fluent speech happens more than stuttering.
- effortlessly repeating sounds, words, or phrases (i.e., I-I-I want more)
- typically repeating at the beginning of talking
- hesitating when speaking and using filler words like “um, er, yeah”
- come and go as the child develops
Stuttering Red Flags
1. Stuttering more than fluent speech
Take note of whether your child is more fluent or not fluent. It is a concern if your child stutters more than 10% of his speech. Is it getting worse or better?
2. Tension in face and neck
When your child stutters, look for tension in his face and neck. This is a sign that stuttering is no longer effortless. Does your child look like he is struggling when speaking?
Does your child notice he is stuttering? Is it work for him to talk? Is he avoiding talking because of stuttering. This child might avoid talking or avoid certain words. You might see him regularly point or gesture rather than tell you what he wants. Does your child do any other behaviors like covering his face or avoiding eye contact when speaking?
4. Prolonged sounds and Blocks
Instead of effortless stuttering (i.e., I-I-I want some milk.), a child who stutters and requires speech therapy will have what is called “prolongations” (i.e., Iah-Iah-Iah want some milk.). “Blocks” are when you child appears to talk but no sound comes out. It is blocked.
5. Pitch changes
Does your child’s voice change pitch when he is stuttering? Does it go up higher or get louder?
If you see any of the above signs in your child, it is time for a speech/language pathologist to evaluation. The therapist will be a good resource on what to do to help your child. Your therapist will ask you about the following risk factors
- Family History
Stuttering begins after 3 1/2
Stuttering longer than 6 months
Has other speech/language difficulties
During your evaluation. You are going to ask what caused the stuttering. It’s hard not to. No one really knows exactly what caused your child’s stuttering. Everyone stutters. Research has narrowed it down to 4 areas that contribute to it becoming more than normal stuttering.
Causes of Stuttering
How to Help a Child that Stutters?
1. Get a speech/language evaluation
A speech/language pathologist will help you determine the severity of the stutter. Through treatment, you will learn how to best help YOUR particular child. All children are different and have different needs. Therapy sessions will focus on the goals to improve fluency and decrease stuttering. It won’t completely get rid of stuttering, since we all stutter in normal speech.
2. Slow Down
Slowing down is tough for young kids. They know what slow is, but they may not know how to make themselves slow down. Instead of telling your child to slow down, slow down your own speech. We naturally mimic the people around us. If you slow down, then your child will slow down. Resist the impulse to say “slow down.” It will just frustrate the both of you. Slow yourself down, and your child will follow your lead.
3. Special Talking Time
Setting aside a time to talk one-on-one with our child with no interruptions. Be face-to-face in a quiet place with no distractions. Technology and other children can add a time constraint for the child. This makes them want to speed up talking to hold their place in the conversation and maintain the attention they need. When your child stutters, just calmly wait. Don’t talk for them or remind them to slow down.
4. Limit extra activities
I know you’ve probably heard this before on a variety of different blogs. Too many activities didn’t cause your child to stutter, but slowing the pace may help for a little bit. If your child is doing a lot of activities, then it might help to drop one for a little bit. It’s hard to slow down if you are always on the go. Sometimes this isn’t possible if there are other siblings needing to go places, but give it a try if you can.
5. Make it ok
Tell your child that it’s ok. It’s ok to stutter. We all stutter. You can give it a different name like “bumpy” speech. Point out when someone on tv stutters. Be calm when you hear your child stutter. It can be so hard not to feel stressed when it happens. It’s your baby, and you don’t want that for him. But, he’s going to be just fine. See below the list of famous people who stutter
Famous People Who Stutter
James Earl Jones
Vice-President Joe Biden
King George VI
Treating stuttering during the preschool years will focus a lot on parent training. This isn’t because you caused it, but because you are the child’s primary person. You have control over the child’s daily environment and have the biggest impact. Being with a child for 30-45 minutes a week will not change the stuttering, but helping the parent manage the environment will. The Stuttering Foundation is a great resource for parents and teachers. Check it out here. They have fantastic handouts that I highly recommend.