Fluency / Stuttering

What is Stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech and language disorder which is characterized by breaks in the flow of speech. The speech of a child who stutters may be interrupted by any of the following :

  • Whole phrase repetitions : This is when you repeat a phrase of more than one word
    Example : “Where is … where is the ball?”
  • Single whole word repetitions : This is when you repeat a single word
    Example : “Where… where is the ball?”
  • Interjections : When you do this type of stutter, you add an extra word in that doesn’t need to be there, usually “um”, “uh”, or “like”
    Example : “Where… um is the ball?”
  • Revisions : This is when you start to say something but revise it to say something else instead.
    Example : “What … where is the ball?”
  • Hesitations : This is when you leave a long pause in your speech while you think about something
    Example : “I’m going to…..look for my marbles”
  • Repetition of single sounds
    Example : “sh-sh-shoe”
  • Repetitions of syllables
    Example : “ba-ba-ball”
  • Prolongation : This is when you stretch or hold a sound out
    Example : “Wh——-re is the ball?”
  • Blocks : This is when there is a tense stop in the flow of speech; you open your mouth to speak or get your tongue in the right place but no sound comes out

Stuttering in Children, Myth #1 :

If my child stutters, it is definitely a problem.

This one is not necessarily true! Stuttering in children is a normal phase that many will go through when they are learning to speak. Many preschoolers will go through a phase of stuttering, especially when they are having a great burst of language skills begin to emerge. These phases seem to be a result of the children having so much to say that their brains and mouths can’t quite keep up. This type of stuttering is nothing to worry about and shouldn’t be addressed in therapy. However, there are signs that we can look for to tell us if a child’s stuttering is not normal. Children with these warning sounds should be checked by a speech-language pathologist.

Stuttering in Children Warning Signs to Look Out For :

  • Child is still stuttering past the age of 4-5 years
  • Child stutters consistently for more than 6 months
  • A family history of significant stuttering
  • Child is stuttering single sounds (like “p-p-p-p-please”) instead of whole words or phrases (like “You you you you go over there”). Or, if the child seems to get stuck where he’s trying to push a sound or word out but no sound comes out. He may look like he’s physically struggling, like scrunching up his face.

Stuttering in Children, Myth #2 :

I should finish my child’s sentences for her when she is stuttering.

Please don’t do this! Although it can be very painful to watch stuttering in children or see a child struggle through a stutter, it is important that you give that child time to finish her sentence on her own. If you finish the sentence for her or provide her the word she’s trying to say, it will feel like you don’t have time for her to finish on her own. When the child feels this way, it will increase the amount of pressure she feels to finish the next time and that pressure can make the stuttering worse. Instead, get down at your child’s level, look her in the eye, and wait for her to finish. This lets her know that she has your devoted attention and she has all the time in the world to finish.

Stuttering in Children, Myth #3 :

Our lifestyle has no effect on my child’s stuttering.

The speed of a child’s lifestyle can have a great effect on a child who stutters. Having a very busy lifestyle with a lot of activities going on can actually make stuttering worse for a child who is prone to it. Increased time constraints and time pressures (like running around from one event to the other) can make a child feel stressed and children who stutter are particularly sensitive to this. If your child is stuttering, it may be important to slow your lifestyle down a bit to see if this helps.

Stuttering in Children, Myth #4 :

I should make sure not to stutter around my child.

Although it seems contradictory, it can actually be very helpful for a child who stutters to hear a familiar adult stutter as well. Many children get very stressed out about their stuttering and feel like it’s a bad thing. If they hear a familiar adult stutter and that adult doesn’t become upset (but rather normalizes it for them), then they may feel more comfortable with their own stuttering. This helps because the more stressed a child is about his stuttering, the worse it will get. This strategy is also helpful for children who are not yet aware of their own stuttering, you can point it out in your own speech and begin to raise their awareness about the stuttering without pointing out that they are stuttering. In order to use this strategy, throw a stutter (similar to how your child stutters) into your own speech and then react calmly to it as if it is no big deal. For example, you could say “I think we-we-we-we-we… Oh, that sounded kind of bumpy. That’s ok! Let me try again. I think we should go to the park!”. Just make sure that you don’t get upset about the stutter (in your speech or your child’s). We don’t want to cause the child more anxiety about stuttering.

Stuttering in Children, Myth #5 :

I caused my child’s stuttering.

Stuttering in children is not something that parents can cause. Certain children are more likely to stutter based on pre-set factors such as genetics and brain function. Certain external factors, such as a busy lifestyle or negative reactions to their stuttering can make the stuttering worse if they are already prone to it, but they were not the cause of the stuttering. Thankfully though, there are many things that parents can do to help their children overcome and deal with stuttering.

What is Cluttering?

According to the Stuttering Foundation, Cluttering is defined as follows :

  • “Cluttering is a fluency disorder characterized by a rapid and/or irregular speaking rate, excessive disfluencies, and often other symptoms such as language or phonological errors and attention deficits.“
  • Children who use cluttered speech are often very difficult to understand and have speech that sounds jerky or too fast. They may have irregular pauses or may speed up and slow down without cause during speech. As secondary symptoms, they may have difficulty organizing their thoughts verbally, they may leave many sounds out of words, and they may use irregular pitch or intonation.

What Causes Stuttering?

According to the stuttering foundation: There are four factors most likely to contribute to the development of stuttering: genetics (approximately 60% of those who stutter have a family member who does also); child development (children with other speech and language problems or developmental delays are more likely to stutter); neurophysiology (recent neurological research has shown that people who stutter process speech and language slightly differently than those who do not stutter); and family dynamics (high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles can contribute to stuttering).

Stuttering may occur when a combination of factors comes together and may have different causes in different people. It is probable that what causes stuttering differs from what makes it continue or get worse.

Is Stuttering Normal?

Many preschoolers go through phases of “normal” stuttering. Most of those children will naturally recover from the stuttering on their own without any therapy. However, some will require therapy for their stuttering. The difficult thing is, there is no way to tell if your preschooler will grow out of it or not. We can look at some “red flags” for stuttering that will tell us that a child may be less likely to recover on his own and more likely to require therapy.

Here are the “red flags” or warning signs that may indicate that a child is more likely to have persistent stuttering that will require therapy :

  • A parent, sibling, or other family member who still stutters
  • Stuttering starts after age 3½
  • Stuttering has been occurring for at least 6 months
  • Preschooler is a male
  • The child has other speech sound errors or trouble being understood
  • The child’s language skills are advanced, delayed, or disordered