Families, educators and health care professionals often observe that children in their care apear to have a stutter. But knowing if this ‘stutter’ is cause for concern is challenging. Many childen will grow out of what is considered stuttering, and others will perhaps continue to jumble their words and sounds for longer. Of course, if you are ever concerned, the best action is to seek advice, but in this blog I will break down what a stutter is, typical dysluencies, and how you can help your child.
What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is generally the term used when a child’s speech flow or rhythm is interrupted in some way. This could be through ‘jumbling’ their words and sounds, or repeating different sounds in words. Other terms are also used in relation to stuttering, including ‘Dysfluencies’ and ‘Stammering’, however stammering is no longer used within the speech pathology profession. To further understand stuttering, we must look at the differnt types of dysfluencies and assess what is considered to be normal when it comes to the clear production of sounds and words.
What are Typical Dysfluencies?
Around 2 ½ to 5 years of age, your child’s language skills grow significantly (which is a great thing!). Suddenly, your child is understanding and producing a whole new range of words and sentences. It makes sense that accessing all these new words in the brain can be a challenge at times and as a result, your child may sound a little ‘dysfluent’, producing the following speech patterns:
- Repeating a whole word, often at the beginning of a sentence, e.g. “Gimmie gimmie the block”.
- Repeating a whole phrase, e.g. “I want I want I want milk”.
- Inserting a filler word into their sentence, e.g. “Ium, want to watch TV”.
- Changing their sentence during speaking, “I want….Can I have a lolly?”
The good news is that these types of dysfluencies are quite normal and something that most children will go through. You may notice these dysfluencies more when your child is excited, upset or tired.
When Stuttering is Not Normal?
Unlike typical dysfluencies of a toddler described above, a ‘true’ stutter looks very different to simple repetiton of words. Stuttering is a speech disorder which causes an interruption to the flow or rhythm of speech. Stuttering affects around 8.5% of children aged three years. The stutter may come on suddenly or gradually over days or weeks. You may observe that your child is producing the following speech patterns:
- Repetitions: Repeating a single syllable word, e.g. “I-I-I-I- want a drink”.
- Repetitions: Repeating a sound or a syllable in a sentence, e.g. ‘C-c-c-can I see “Da-Da-Daddy”
- Prolongations: Stretching out sounds in words, e.g. “I waaaaaaaant a dog”
- Blocks: Attempting to produce speech but no sound comes out, e.g. “…..(pause) “Come here.”
As well as these difficulties with speech, your child may produce what we call ‘Secondary Behaviours’. These are certain mannerisms or sounds that your child develops when they are attempting to speak, including:
- Signs of physical tension or struggle, such as blinking, moving the head or body, grimacing or producing sounds.
- Negative feelings or reactions towards their talking.
- Avoiding particular sounds, words or social situations.
What Causes Stuttering?
The exact cause of stuttering still remains a mystery and more research is needed into this important area. What we do know is that there are certain risk factors that can make it more likely that your child may develop a stutter, including:
- Being male – boys are up to 4 times more likely to stutter compared to girls
- Having a family member with a stutter
- Developing the stutter after 3 ½ years of age
- If the stutter has been present for more than six months
- If your child has an existing speech or language delay
When Should I Speak to a Speech Pathologist About My Child’s Stutter?
At A Growing Understanding Speech Pathology, we always recommend that you speak with us as soon as you become awre of or are concerned about your child’s skill development. This includes stuttering. We are always available to meet with you to discuss any concerns you have and to provide you with guidance and information.
While up to 75% of children who develop a stutter will recover without therapy, research indicates that seeking advice from a Speech Pathologist as soon as you notice that your child is stuttering results in the best outocmes. In previous years, families were often advised to wait up to six months before seeking advice. The recommendations have now updated as seeking advice early can mean a faster recovery and reduce the likelihood that the stutter will worsen over time.
What Should I Look for in a Speech Pathologist to Help My Child’s Stutter?
Stuttering can be a very complex area to treat and can be affected by many different factors. The Speech Pathologists at A Growing Understanding Speech Pathology offer a point of difference with stuttering assessment and treatment. We have advanced training in stuttering via the Lidcombe Program. This is the most recognised and accredited childhood stuttering treatment program for young children.
What Does a Stuttering Assessment With a Speech Pathologist Look Like?
A Stuttering assessment at A Growing Understanding Speech Pathology usually takes around one hour. We spend this time getting to know you and your child, discussing your child’s history, playing together and observing your child’s speech patterns. In order to get a clear indication of the nature and severity of your child’s stutter, we will ask you specific questions, including:
- How long you have noticed the stutter
- Whether your child appears to notice it or is bothered by it
- Times of day and situations that the stutter is worse
- If there are any particular sounds or words that makes the stutter worse, or any words that your child tries to avoid
- If your child’s other communication partners have noticed the stutter, such as Daycare staff or extended family
- If there have been any significant family changes recently, such as moving house, starting at Daycare or Preschool, or the birth of a new sibling
We will then spend some time playing with and talking with your child to observe your child’s speech. We have huge toy cupboards at all three of our sites filled with exciting things for your child to explore. Alternatively, we also recommend bringing your child’s favourite game and/or toy from home or having some recent photos handy on your phone – these make great conversation starters and can help your child to feel comfortable in the clinic room.
Following the assessment, our clinician will analyse the assessment results and prepare a Management Plan/Assessment Report. This will include a diagnosis and treatment plan based on the assessment session. We invite you back to the clinic to discuss these results in detail and discuss any questions that you may have.
While typical dysfluencies are normal as your child is developing their language skills, a true stutter can be a challenging disorder if not treated early. If you are ever concerned about your child’s speech and language, we encourage you speak to us at A Growing Understanding Speech Pathology for guidance and support.
Further Resources for Families