Stuttering (Speech Question 4 of 7)

Dorothy Dougherty, MA, provides speech therapy for children just learning to speak, and she is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby. In this series, she answers the questions that new parents most frequently ask her.

When is "stuttering" okay?

It is important to remember that 85% of children between the ages of two and six may show hesitations and repetitions at times when talking. These nonfluencies are considered to be a normal stage in speech and language development. If handled wisely by parents and caregivers, normal nonfluencies may last from several weeks to several months and eventually disappear. When a young child repeats a sound (b-b-b- baby) or a syllable (ba-ba baby) or a word (baby -- baby) this is not necessarily stuttering. Many times, young children are anxious to express themselves and may simply lack the sophistication to put words together smoothly. However, for some children, this may be the beginning signs of stuttering.

How can you tell if your son or daughter has crossed the line between what is "normal nonfluencies" and what is "stuttering?" In the initial stages, stuttering is very difficult to recognize, because most children beginning to stutter often sound a lot like other children their age much of the time. However, experts agree there are several things you can look for when trying to determine if your child is beginning to stutter or is just exhibiting nonfluencies like other children her age. If you observe frequent or consistent appearance of one or more of these speech behaviors, it is wise to seek the attention of a speech-language pathologist.

  1. Does your child stretch out a sound, such as b...............aby longer than one second?

  2. Does your child repeat more than one syllable in one word? For example, "Amermericaca."

  3. Does your child use the weak schwa vowel? For example, instead of saying "bay -- bay-baby," she substitutes "buh-buh-buh-baby."

  4. Does the pitch and loudness of your childís voice increase, when she repeats or prolongs sounds and syllables?

  5. Does your child exhibit any uncontrolled quivering of her lips or tongue when she repeats or prolongs sounds or syllables?

  6. Does your child use an unusual number of pauses, substitutions of words, interject extra sounds, words or phrases, or avoid talking altogether?

  7. Does your child appear frightened when she tries to say a word that is giving her trouble?

  8. Does your child appear to have breathing difficulties or speak in spurts as if she is struggling to keep her airflow and voice flowing?

The most natural thing for a parent to do is to say to their child, "slow down," or "take it easy," or "think about what you want to say, before you start to talk." These suggestions may actually make a young child feel that there is something wrong with the way he talks. Experts agree that fostering uncertainty or anxiety in a young child, or putting pressure on a child to talk or respond quickly, could certainly foster a stuttering problem.

Instead, slow your own speech down, and donít call attention to your childís repetitions by facial expressions or words. Also, when you child rushes in to tell you something, give her plenty of time to talk without interruption. If possible, stop what you are doing, and make eye contact. Most children, like adults, enjoy communicating when they are looking at the other personís face rather than their back or side.

It is also beneficial to become aware of the types of conditions in your home, school, and neighborhood that seem to promote fluent speech and those that may promote nonfluencies. However, normal nonfluencies as well as stuttering may occur in some situations and not in others, without any apparent rhyme or reason. Several days or even weeks may go by without a problem. Then without warning, your child may seem to go through a period when she seems to stutter every time he opens her mouth. When your child is having a particularly difficult day, keep your own speech concise, and simple in style and vocabulary, so that she may hear a pattern which will be easier to copy. Donít interrupt her or complete her sentences. Try to decrease her need to talk. Try to casually accept her nonfluencies by changing the subject or shifting her attention. Concentrate on non-verbal activities that she enjoys such as playing games, watching TV, or read her favorite books. Also, take advantage of the days and weekís when she is more fluent by increasing the opportunities for her to talk. For example: have a puppet show, play verbal pretend games, look at picture books and take turns telling the story, go shopping or visiting where she can talk to others, and join in activities involving speech, rhymes and songs.

Question #1 -- Early Communication

Question #2 -- Learning the Meaning of Words

Question #3 -- Growing Up Bilingual

Question #5 -- Sound Deadlines

Question #6 -- When Should I Be Concerned?

Question #7 -- Professional Speech Therapy