Stammering: a long and b-b-b-bumpy road!
As a speech and language therapist I often receive phone calls from parents who are distraught that their child has started stammering. These calls usually come from the parents of children aged from about two to five who are understandably very worried. So what do you need to know about stammering? When should you worry? Read on to find out.
It is very common for children between the ages of two and five to have difficulty speaking fluently. Acquiring language is one of the most complex skills we have to learn…saying a single word is a complicated process. Take the word ‘cat’; first the back of the tongue must raise to the back of the mouth to make a closure, the air must then be released to make the ‘c’ sound, then immediately the tongue must drop down for the ‘a’ sound. Finally the tip of the tongue must rise to the top of the mouth to create another closure and release to make the ‘t’ sound. All this for one single word. Now add in the complexities of putting together sentences, adding in grammar and conforming to the social rules of interaction. It is not surprising that at times out little ones mouths can’t keep up with their brains! Often in young children this is the reason behind stammering- it is a normal part of the process of becoming proficient at talking.
So if your child is going through a period of stammering or ‘normal non-fluency’ what can you do?
1. Give her time to finish what she is saying, don’t interrupt her, just keep the conversation going as normal.
2. Maintain eye-contact with her so she knows that you are still listening and keep your expression neutral- try not to look worried or react.
3. Slow down your own rate of speech- this helps children to feel they have plenty of time to say what they want to say rather than feeling rushed.
4. If your child stammers, wait until they have finished talking and repeat back to them what they have just said- you are providing a fluent model for them.
5. Give your child lots of positive reinforcement for what they are saying rather than how they are saying it e.g. ‘That was a really interesting fact- you’re so clever!’ ‘I love it when you tell me about what you did today’, ‘You are really good at telling stories’ etc
Often you will find that your child’s fluency fluctuates: you may have days or weeks with no problems followed by days or weeks where your child can hardly get a word out. You may notice an increase in stammering during periods of change or excitement e.g. staring preschool, giving up a dummy, looking forward to a birthday or having house guests etc. In the case of normal non-fluency using the strategies above should be enough to help you child regain fluency.
When should I speak to a Speech and Language Therapist?
If any of the following occurs you may wish to discuss it with a speech and language therapist:
– Your child becomes very aware of her stammering and it affects her willingness to speak.
– Your child starts to avoid certain words, or changes what she is saying when she gets stuck.
– Your child starts to show visible signs of struggle or other body movements associated with trying to get words out.
– The stammering lasts for more than three months and doesn’t seem to improve even for short periods of time.
– Your child begins stammering for the first time after the age of three.
– You have a family history of stammering.
– Your child has additional speech and language difficulties.
A final word
In summary many children will have periods of non-fluency; often as a child’s speech and language skills develop, speech will become more fluent. For those children where the problem seems to be more persistent, all is not lost. Speech and language therapy is very effective at increasing fluency so please do seek advice if you are concerned.
Lucy Kassell is an independent speech and language therapist based in the UK. She is happy to answer any queries related to this or any other speech and language issue.
lucy @ yorkshireslt.co.uk (please copy and remove spaces)
Posted on August 20, 2014 by
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