It is not uncommon for a child between the ages of 2 and 5 to have a period of temporary stuttering. This is a crucial time of speech and language development. The stutter may persist for a couple of weeks or months. While most stuttering is outgrown, rarely a stutter can persist into adulthood. Whether or not your child's stutter is temporary or permanent, you should learn all you can so you have the resources you need to help your stuttering child.
What Is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech disorder that affects more than 3 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Disorders. Stuttering occurs when normal speech is interrupted by the repetition or extension of certain sounds or words. Stuttering, also called stammering, can range in frequency and intensity from mild to severe. Sometimes, speaking in front of a group or talking on the telephone can aggravate the condition, while singing or reading can reduce stuttering. Stress can sometimes make it worse. The struggle to speak may be accompanied by physical gestures or movements.
Causes of Stuttering
Experts don't know for sure what causes stuttering in a child, but most believe that the speech disorder occurs as the result of a variety of factors. They may include one or more of the following:
- Genetics. Most experts agree that stuttering has a genetic component. Sixty percent of all people who stutter have a close family member who also stutters.
- Developmental stuttering. Many young children go through a period of stuttering beginning at the age of 18 months to 2 years, as they hone their speech and language skills. This form of stuttering is usually temporary.
- Neurological factors. Research has found that people who stutter process language differently than those without the speech disorder. In some cases, there seems to be a problem in the way language is transmitted through the brain. Scientists don't know exactly why this occurs.
Risk Factors for Stuttering
How do you know whether a stuttering child has a temporary developmental problem, or a more serious speech disorder that warrants intervention? According to the Stuttering Foundation, the following factors put your child at greater risk:
- Family. Your child is at higher risk if he or she has one or more family members who stutter in adulthood.
- Age. Children who begin stuttering before they reach age 3½ are more likely to outgrow it.
- Length of time stuttering persists. If your child's stuttering habit lasts longer than 6 months, it is less likely that he or she will outgrow it.
- Gender. Boys are three to four times as likely as girls to stutter.
- Other speech and language deficits. If your child has other problems speaking and being understood, it is less likely that he will outgrow his stutter.
Treatment for Stuttering
Many parents are reluctant to seek speech therapy for their stuttering child because they don't want to increase their child's self-consciousness about the speech disorder. Experts agree that if your child is over age 3 and has been stuttering for three to six months, you should probably seek a speech evaluation. That's because your stuttering child may have more than a temporary developmental problem. Find a speech therapist who specializes in stuttering. The therapist can help you decide whether or not your child needs intervention.
Most children with prolonged stuttering can benefit from speech therapy. In some cases, the problem is completely eliminated; in other cases, it gets much better. Whatever the final outcome, speech therapy should boost your child's confidence as he or she learns to manage stuttering and improve speaking skills.
Tips for Parents of a Stuttering Child
Parents can have an enormous effect on how the stuttering child views his disorder and how comfortable he feels in his ability to express himself and to be heard by those around him. Here are some steps you can take to help your stuttering child:
- Try to speak slowly and calmly to your stuttering child. Encourage the other adults in your child's life to do the same.
- Try to maintain a calm, quiet atmosphere at home.
- Pay attention to what your child is saying, not the way he is saying it. This will require you to slow down and pay attention. Don't show impatience or irritation when your child is talking to you.
- Don't offer suggestions such as, "Slow down," or "Can you say that more clearly?"
- Minimize questions and interruptions when your child is speaking.
- Never call attention to your child's stutter or other speech disorder.
- Try to make time each day for one-on-one time with your child.