It’s so exciting for parents when our kiddos start learning to express themselves. Soon, one word becomes two, and, before you know it, they hit a vocabulary explosion—with new words showing up nearly everyday.
But what happens if, along with your child's growing vocabulary and ability to communicate verbally, you begin to notice disfluencies cropping up in their speech?
Maybe they start repeating words, before they’re able to get their thoughts out. Maybe it’s just a part of a word that gets repeated. You try not to draw attention to it when it happens, but you’re concerned your child’s speech sometimes sounds like a skipping record.
First of all—if you notice your child having difficulty getting their words out, or repeating words or word parts in their speech, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern.
In fact, many kids go through a “stuttering phase,” when they’re learning and mastering spoken language. This occurs largely because their brains are working faster than their mouths can keep up—they’re learning so much, so fast that their ability to express the increasingly complex thoughts in their heads occasionally gets jumbled up on the way out.
Think about it in relation to demands and capacities. Everytime the demand on a system increases, that system’s capacity to perform a given task must adjust as a result. Put in these terms, your child’s stuttering can actually be a sign of their intelligence. They have more to say than they’re quite able to manage.
For typically developing children, the stuttering phase will be a mild speed bump on their way to spoken language mastery.
But, in some cases, stuttering persists past this phase of development. While some children naturally grow out of their period of speech disfluency, some do not.
When stuttering persists, or worsens in a child’s speech, impacting their ability to be understood—it may require assessment and treatment by a qualified professional, like a Speech and Language Pathologist.
Here at The Loop, our team of highly skilled Speech-Language Pathologists are available to help assess and treat your child if they’re experiencing issues with their speech and language skills, including stuttering.
Because we’re all about sharing valuable information with parents and educators alike, we created this article for you—to help you better understand how and why stuttering occurs, when it’s considered to be an issue, and how we can help if your child is experiencing it.
Let’s dive in, to learn more about stuttering, and what can be done to help.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a type of communication disorder that impacts the fluency (or flow) of a person’s speech. It can also impact their rate of speech, or how consistent and steady it is.
Stuttering can show up in a person’s speech patterns in many ways, including—
Repetitions—when a sound, syllable, or word is repeated over and over. Examples include: “Wha-wha-what are you doing?”, “What-what-what are you doing?, or “W-w-w-w-what are you doing?”
Prolongations—when a word part is drawn out. Examples include: “Wwwwwhat are you doing?”, and “Hoooooooow’s it going?”
Blocks—when a person is trying to say something, but no sounds or words come out. These may be accompanied by groping motions of the face and mouth.
Sometimes, all these issues can co-occur in the speech of individuals who stutter.
Stuttering is a term that can be both applied to the specific instances of disfluency in a person’s speech, as well as to the overall communication difficulty experienced by a person.
Stuttering is referred to as stammering by people in the United Kingdom. These are merely different terms, used to refer to the same issue.
You likely already know something about stuttering. Maybe you’ve even known a person who stuttered. In 2010, the film The King’s Speech offered moviegoers a sympathetic glimpse into the story of King George VI, who was known to struggle with stuttering.
You may also be aware that many famous personalities were known to have struggled with and overcome issues with stuttering. This list includes—
James Earl Jones
President Joe Biden
Several foundations and support networks exist, to show people who stutter they’re not alone and there’s much hope to overcome their speech issues and go on to thrive—even in a life in the public eye. In fact, we have a nice resources list you can check out, right here on our site.
Stuttering is an issue that impacts around 3 million Americans, and over 70 million people worldwide.
Stuttering is an issue that affects boys more often than girls, but the reasons for this are not yet fully understood.
Let’s take a look at the issues around stuttering, to understand the facets of this complex issue.
What causes stuttering in children?
As is the case with many communication disorders, including apraxia, and phonological and articulation disorders—it’s often difficult to pinpoint the underlying causes of stuttering in the people who experience it.
There are two main types of stuttering, known as developmental stuttering and neurogenic stuttering.
Neurogenic stuttering is worth a mention but is not the focus of this article, as it typically affects adults. This type of stutter is often the result of a stroke, brain injury, or other neurological trauma that impacts how the brain is able to interface and coordinate with the muscles that create connected speech. People experiencing a neurogenic stutter typically had normal speech patterns, prior to the event which caused the stutter to occur.
Developmental stuttering is the most common type of stuttering, and the one most likely to impact children. This is the type of stuttering that typically appears when a child is developing their speech and language skills, and can become problematic if it does not go away on its own, or worsens as a child matures.
Some factors that may play a role in developmental stuttering include—
Genetics—there appears to be a high correlation of stuttering prevalence within families
Presence of other speech, language, and developmental disorders—children with these issues tend to have a higher incidence of stuttering
Neurological factors—some differences have been seen in the brains of people who stutter, related to how they process speech and language.
Researchers on the subject have also found—the persistence of stuttering in the children who experience it often becomes closely related to their thoughts and feelings about their communication issues. Many children who stutter quickly become aware of their difficulty with speech production, and develop feelings of shame, fear, or avoidance. This can make stuttering worse, as people who stutter report they can often predict which words they’ll experience difficulty producing (even though stuttering, itself, is highly unpredictable). This can negatively affect the quality of life of the children who stutter, leading them to have low self esteem, or to avoid social situations or other opportunities (such as public speaking).
How stuttering can impact school performance and quality of life
To continue with the discussion, above—it’s easy to see how stuttering can negatively impact the lives of the children who experience it.
Children who stutter often learn to avoid any situations which might provoke an episode of disfluency, including—
Speaking in class
Talking to new people
Answering a teacher’s questions
Performing in school plays or skits
Interacting with peers
Additionally, children who stutter often have skewed results on reading fluency assessments, as their disfluencies impact their ability to read fluidly, even if they fully understand the text in front of them. Children who stutter also struggle with giving oral reports in the school setting, which may impact their academic performance, as well.
How is stuttering in children treated?
If your child is experiencing a stutter that has persisted, worsened, or is negatively impacting their school performance and overall quality of life—there is help and support available, for you and your child.
Working with a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) is an important component of addressing your child’s issues with speech and communication. Here at The Loop, our qualified team of SLPs are skilled at assessing and treating school-aged children with a variety of speech, language, and communication issues—including stuttering. You can contact us directly to inquire about services, or reach out to your child’s healthcare provider, school, or teacher.
We’ll find a time to meet with you and, from here, will schedule a time to evaluate your child’s speech skills. You can learn more about what an assessment with an SLP looks like by reading this article. Once we’ve come together and established how your child’s speech issues show up and impact them, we’ll develop an individualized treatment plan to address the issues with your child’s speech fluency.
You'll be an important part of our therapy team, created to help your child overcome their issues with stuttering. Your child’s teacher will also be involved. Any other important family members can also be included as part of your child’s team. Because stuttering is complex and multifactorial, we believe best treatment plans employ the “it takes a village” model.
Our treatment for your child will also take into account several important factors that influence their stuttering behaviors, such as—
The severity of their stuttering
Their typical environments
How your child feels about their stuttering
How others react to your child’s stuttering
How stuttering impacts your child’s daily life
Your child’s age
While our treatments are specifically designed with your child in mind, we typically include the use of both direct and indirect strategies in our therapy for children who stutter.
Direct strategies involve training your child to modify the way they speak, in an effort to minimize stuttering.
Indirect strategies revolve around setting your child up for success by finding ways to make it easier for them to speak fluently. We involve your child’s communication partners in the use of these strategies. We may train you to more effectively communicate with your child, by slowing your rate or speech, or asking them fewer questions. We will work with you to help you learn how to best respond to your child when they are experiencing an episode of disfluency.
If your child is experiencing issues with a stutter, we know it can leave parents at a loss for how they can help. In addition to reaching out to a Speech-Language Pathologist, here are some other strategies you can use to help your child when they stutter—
Practice patience—it may take your child a while to get their thoughts out. Give them time and space to do so.
Offer eye contact—active listening strategies help to support a child who stutters, letting them know you’re listening
Reduce time pressure and interruptions when your child is speaking
Reduce demands—try not to put your child on the spot (asking them to tell a story, answer a question or relate something to another person)
Be open and supportive—treat your child’s stuttering in the same patient, positive manner as you would any other issues they’re struggling with.
Here at The Loop, we know you only want what’s best for your child. We are here to support you and your child, and to teach you positive, proven strategies to help your child successfully overcome their issues with stuttering. Our awesome team of SLPs are ready to support you in the ways you need, to help your child thrive and succeed!
P.S. Didya know we also offer outstanding occupational therapy, exemplary executive function coaching, laudable learning remediation services, excellent educational advocacy and consultancy, and stupendous support services of all kinds?! (We also love alliteration).
Check out our website, follow us on social @theLoopSLL, or reach out with questions at email@example.com. We’re here for you!