Does your child appear to be stuttering?
What you might not know about stuttering is that it truly runs the gamut. “I see preschoolers and people in their sixties,” said Patrice Carothers, speech therapist in Beachwood. While experts have come to understand stuttering in some ways, the cause remains a mystery. “What we know is that it tends to run in families, though certain people may stutter as a child and outgrow it or it may become a lifelong problem,” said Carothers.
Everyone is affected by stuttering in a different way. “It is difficult for parents to determine whether or not their young child is in fact stuttering or going through a period of temporary dysfluency which is often times a normal part of development,” said Carothers. It can be frustrating when you are unsure of where your child stands. “Temporary dysfluency means repeating a syllable, word or phrase and that is where a speech pathologist who is specially trained in working with stuttering can conduct an evaluation,” said Carothers. This entails an hour or two where the therapist can listen to the child and ask the child questions to determine if it is something that requires therapy or if there is a program the parents can follow at home that would facilitate fluency.
Stuttering is a real issue and if your pediatrician says not to worry and the stuttering is temporary, do not be afraid to consult with a speech pathologist to be sure. “He will analyze the type of dysfluency and when it seems to occur, whether or not there is associated tension and if the child is aware of his difficulty with getting words out because all of those factors come together for whether or not the child has a stuttering problem,” said Carothers.
The strategies that are recommended for parents of young children who are at risk for stuttering or show signs of stuttering are also beneficial for all children. “Become a good listener, do not interrupt the child when he is talking, do not finish the word for the child when he is stuttering and do not use rapid speech,” said Carothers.
Follow Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’s style of speaking. “He is the classic example of the way parents should talk to children to facilitate fluency because the flow of his speech is slower, he stretches the vowels out in his words and uses frequent pausing where it would be normal to take a breath if you were reading out loud,” said Carothers. Speak in a slow, but easing way that is not exaggerated and stays within normal limits so you can be a model for your child. “We are concerned about a prolongation of a sound like 'mmmommy' where the initial sound is held for a long time, or if the word were 'table' and there was sound repetition, that is considered significant,” said Carothers. Some things that may seem like a big deal to you are not. “If it is phrase repetition like 'I want I want ice-cream,' that is considered normalized and you should not be concerned,” said Carothers.
Dysfluencies come in many shapes and forms. A child with stuttering problems that are treated as a preschooler can have an excellent chance of complete recovery without even knowing that he had a problem. However, if he becomes older and aware of his stuttering or it has been brought to his attention because he is teased, he may be self-conscious or think he can no longer say a word that he once had difficulty with. When a child thinks he can no longer say a word that begins with a certain sound that he had trouble producing, it grows into a debilitating problem.
“You want to intervene before the child develops an attitude about himself as a stutterer and develops negative qualities that can be associated with that like anxiety,” said Carothers. Be empathetic and supportive. “It is important to maintain good eye contact when he is having trouble or any time; have an open, accepting attitude; and if the child has a hard block it is perfectly okay for the parent to say 'I see you are having trouble talking right now and we all do sometimes but it is okay,' ” said Carothers. Be reassuring.
Know that there are wonderful resources out there. Try to weed out bad, harmful advice that is not evidence-based versus guidance from reputable sources. “The Stuttering Foundation advice is based on scientific research and is factual, written by experts in the field,” said Carothers. The Stuttering Foundation is a nonprofit organization developed for the prevention and treatment of stuttering. “They have free stuff like video tapes, things for teachers, siblings and pediatricians, ways to get insurance for covering stuttering therapy and more,” said Carothers. The outlook on stuttering is much more positive and optimistic compared to the past. “We do not have a cure or all the answers but we do have a lot of help,” she added.
A lot of progress has been made. “We have learned more in the past decade in working with not only the stuttering itself but with the attitudes and feelings about stuttering and deconditioning those so the child is not afraid to talk,” said Carothers. The big trend is to work on the psychosocial aspects of stuttering as well as the stuttering itself. “In the past it was just working on stuttering or the psychosocial aspects but now we blend the two together and have a customized way of working with individual children who stutter on exactly what they need,” said Carothers.