When to Worry About Your Child’s Stutter

Hearing your little one’s first words is simply magical. When baby’s babbling changes from gibberish into syllables, a whole new world opens up. By age 2, your little parrot can typically say about 50 to 100 words and have real conversations with four-word sentences. Before long, you’ll have a hard time remembering the sounds of your newborn’s silence.

Our daughter was an early talker. From a very young age she could carry on full conversations and had a very impressive vocabulary. So when her third birthday rolled around, we were all a little startled by her sudden stutter. She began stumbling over words and repeating them over and over again. Granted, this didn’t happen with every sentence, but it was more than just occasional. When she wanted a drink she would repeat “Can-can-can I…” several times before the final words “have a drink” made it out of her mouth. We tried just being patient and letting her finish on her own time (which is much more difficult than you might think) but a few short weeks later, the problem was gone.

It turns out even experts don’t know exactly what causes disfluency or stuttering, but they do know it’s common in preschoolers with their expanding language skills. In fact, the Stuttering Foundation of America reported that 25 percent of all preschool-aged children go through a stage where their disfluencies are severe enough to concern parents. Of that 25 percent, only 5 percent actually developed a true stutter.

Many children go through periods of disfluency — repeating words and punctuating thoughts with “uh” and “um.” In more severe forms, it becomes a stutter, a relatively normal occurrence among young kids, especially boys, who are four times more likely to develop one than girls.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most children will begin to spontaneously recover from normal disfluencies after only six months, though they may continue to have evidence of disfluencies for up to two years post onset. The important thing to remember is that they should be getting better over time, not worse, as they spontaneously recover.

In mild cases of stuttering, children repeat words like “go-go-go park.” In more serious ones, they repeat parts of words like “wa-wa-wa-want.” In the worst cases, they simply can’t say some words at all.

Stuttering also may be accompanied by rapid blinking, grimacing, irregular breathing, or head jerking as a result of the effort a child makes to get the words out. To help your child handle a stutter:

  • Slow down – Speak easily and slowly to your child so he’s able to organize what he’s hearing and how he wants to respond.
  • Eyes Open – Make eye contact with him to boost his confidence and let him know you’re listening.
  • Patience – Don’t interrupt her in the middle of a sentence or fill in words for her when she’s having trouble.
  • Hold Back – Resist the temptation to say “slow down,” “relax,” or “stop and think” – such remarks can heighten her tension.
  • Straight Face – Be calm when your child stammers. Reacting with discouraging facial expressions will make him more uncomfortable.

Seek Help – If the problem persists for at least three months, contact a speech-language pathologist. Try to find one who’s a board-recognized fluency expert in preschool stuttering. To locate one in your area, visit The National Stuttering Association. The Mary K. Chapman Speech & Hearing Clinic at The University of Tulsa offers free speech-language and hearing screening tests for children on Fridays. For an appointment, call 918.631.2504.

The fact that stuttering at times seems severe or that it may continue for more than six months does not necessarily mean that stuttering is going to be a lifelong problem. Knowing what to look for and knowing how to respond to your child’s stuttering will go a long way toward preventing that from happening.

Categories: Little Ones

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