What Causes Stuttering?
Experts point to four factors that contribute to stuttering:
A family history of stuttering. There is disagreement as to whether stuttering is genetic, because specific genes have not been identified. But close to 60% of all stutterers have someone in the family who also stutters or stuttered.
Child development. Children who have other language and speech problems are more likely to stutter than children who don't.
Neurophysiology. In some children who stutter, language is processed in different parts of the brain than it is for children who don't stutter. This may also interfere with the interaction between the brain and the muscles that control speech.
Family dynamics. Some children's stuttering has been attributed to high family expectations and a fast-paced lifestyle.
It was commonly believed that stuttering was often the result of either physical or emotional trauma. Although there are some instances of stuttering following such traumas, they are rare and usually connected with physical trauma or illness later in life. There is little evidence to support the idea that children stutter as a result of emotional upheaval.
When Should I Seek Professional Help for My Child's Stuttering?
Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your child's development, including stuttering. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who can evaluate your child and determine whether or not there is a risk of a long-term problem. In most cases involving children, treatment primarily focuses on training and working with the parents to develop techniques to help the child cope with and get beyond his or her stuttering.
There is no "cure" for stuttering, and no drug has been approved to treat stuttering. Sometimes the SLP will work directly with the child to develop individual behavioral techniques that can help the child learn not to stutter. The actual therapy may vary from child to child depending on the child's particular circumstances.
For children who have a severe problem with stuttering, early evaluation and intervention is very helpful. Signs to look for that suggest you should have your child evaluated include:
- Stuttering that becomes more frequent and gets worse with time
- Stuttering that is accompanied by body or facial movements
- Speech that is especially difficult or strained
- Avoiding situations that require talking
- Vocal tension that results in rising pitch while talking
- Stuttering that continues after a child has turned 5 years old
Are There Things I Can Do at Home to Help My Child Who Stutters?
There are a lot of things you and other family members can do to help a child who stutters get beyond his or her problems with speaking:
- Create opportunities for talking that are relaxed, fun, and enjoyable.
- Find times to engage your child in conversations without distractions of TV or other interruptions. For instance, you can make it a habit to involve him in family conversations at dinner each day.
- Don't be critical of your child's speech or insist on precise or correct speech.
- Don't put pressure on your child to entertain or interact verbally with other people when stuttering becomes a problem. Encourage activities that don't involve a lot of verbal interaction.
- Listen attentively to what your child is saying, maintaining normal eye contact without displaying signs of impatience or frustration.
- Avoid reacting negatively when your child stutters, correcting his speech, or completing his sentences. It's important for the child to understand that people can communicate effectively even when they do stutter.
- Although phrases such as "Stop and take a deep breath" or "Slow down" may be meant to help your child, they can actually make him more self-conscious and should not be used.
- Model a slow, relaxed way of speaking to help your child slow down his own speech.
- Don't be afraid to talk with your child about stuttering. If he asks questions or expresses concern, listen and answer in ways that will help him understand that disruptions in speech are normal and that everyone experiences them to some degree.
To find out more about stuttering and how to help your child, call the Stuttering Foundation of America at 1-800-992-9392.