Stuttering in Children. What is it and How to Help.

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Dr. Sandro Cantoni. Pediatrician.

Reading time: 8 minutes

Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is interrupted by repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. Stuttering is a problem that some children have with speaking. They might have trouble saying some words or sounds, and it can make it hard for them to communicate with other people.

Many kids who stutter outgrow it, but some continue to have trouble speaking fluently. There is no one right way to treat stuttering, but there are some things that might help.

What is stuttering?

Stuttering can be defined as dysfluencies, which are disruptions in the flow of speech. There are many different types of dysfluencies, but the most common are repetitions (saying a word or sound more than once) and prolongations (holding a sound or word longer than usual).

Incidence of stuttering.

The incidence of stuttering is not well-known, as it is often underreported. It is estimated that 5 to 10% of preschoolers and 2% of the population worldwide stutters, which means that there are around 70 million people who stutter. The disorder affects people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Boys are more likely to stutter than girls, and the incidence of stuttering increases with age.

When do children start to have stuttering?

Most kids who stutter start having trouble speaking fluently when they are between 2 and 6 years old. For some kids, the problem lasts a short time and they outgrow it. For others, stuttering may continue into adulthood.

Why do kids stutter?

Most experts believe that stuttering is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, a person who has a parent or sibling who stutters is more likely to stutter himself, and difficulties with speech and language development in early childhood may increase the risk of stuttering. Additionally, emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, and embarrassment may make stuttering worse.

Normal developmental stuttering or dysfluencies

Developmental dysfluencies can be anything from a speech impediment to problems with coordination. Most children will experience some level of developmental dysfluency at some point during their development, but for most, it will be minor and temporary. In rare cases, however, developmental dysfluencies can be more significant and persistent, impacting a child’s ability to fully participate in everyday life.

There are a number of different types of developmental dysfluencies, each with its own set of symptoms. Speech impediments, for example, can cause a child to have trouble forming words correctly or pronouncing certain sounds.

The good news is that most cases of developmental dysfluency are mild and will improve over time with no intervention necessary. In some cases, however, more assistance may be needed in order to help the child overcome their difficulties. Speech therapy, for example, can be very effective in helping a child with speech impediments. Physical therapy can help improve coordination and movement skills.

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing developmental dysfluencies, it is important to speak with your doctor.

The earlier a child receives treatment for stuttering, the better. This is because children are more likely to overcome the disorder if they receive help early on. Many kids who stutter outgrow it without needing any treatment, but for those who do continue to have problems speaking fluently, early intervention is key.

What are the types of stuttering in children?

There are three main types of stuttering in children: developmental, neurogenic, and psychogenic.

Developmental stuttering is the most common type. Neurogenic stuttering is caused by damage to the brain or nervous system, while psychogenic stuttering is caused by psychological factors such as stress or anxiety.

Developmental stuttering in children.  

Developmental stuttering is when a child’s speech is not smooth. They might have trouble getting the words out, and it can be really hard for them to speak in front of people. It’s more common in boys than girls, and it usually starts around when a child is 2 or 3 years old. There’s no one cause for developmental stuttering, but it can sometimes be caused by problems with the way the brain works or by a family history of stuttering.

It can make it hard for kids to talk to each other, but most kids outgrow this.

How to treat developmental stuttering?

If your child is experiencing developmental stuttering, there are a number of things you can do to help them. The most important thing is to be patient and supportive. Try not to get frustrated with your child, and don’t put pressure on them to speak perfectly.

How can you tell if a child is stuttering?

Recognizing stuttering in a child can be difficult because the symptoms can vary. However, some common signs include:

-The child may say: “I, I, I. I want to go outside.”  The child might also repeat words or sounds.

-The child’s speech may be slow or labored.

-The child may have difficulty getting words out.

-The child might hesitate before speaking.

-The child’s facial expressions might change when they try to speak. For example, they may tense up or their eyes might close tightly.

How to help a child who stutters?

If you have a child who is stuttering, there are a number of things you can do to help them. The most important thing is to be patient and supportive. Try not to get frustrated with your child, and don’t put pressure on them to speak perfectly.

If your child stutters, you can help him by:

  • Encourage the child to keep talking. This can be really hard, but it’s important for them to keep practicing. Not interrupting your child or finishing their sentences for them.
  • Make sure the child has enough time to speak. Don’t rush them, correct the speech or interrupt them. Allowing them to take their time in answering questions.
  • Maintain eye contact with the child when they are speaking.
  • Avoid saying things like “slow down” or “take a deep breath.”
  • Speak slowly and clearly when you are talking to them, with frequent pauses.
  • Give the child plenty of encouragement and praise. Let them know that you appreciate the effort they’re making.
  • Do not look worried when your child is stuttering.

Exercises to help a stuttering child

There are exercises to help children who stutter. These exercises can help them to speak more fluently. One exercise is to have the child read a story out loud. This can help them to practice reading aloud without stuttering. Another exercise is to have the child speak slowly and clearly. This can help them to focus on their speech and to speak more fluently. These exercises can help children who stutter to improve their speech and to feel more confident speaking aloud.

There are also many therapy programs available to help children who stutter. These programs can help them to learn how to speak more fluently. One program is the McGuire Programme. This program helps children to understand their own stuttering and how to control it. The program also teaches children how to speak more fluently. Another program is the Elman Therapy Program. This program helps children to relax and to speak more fluently.

Resources available for children and parents.

There are also many support groups available for children who stutter. These groups can help them to connect with other children who are also stuttering. They can also provide support and encouragement for the child. Some good sources of information about developmental stuttering include:

-The Stuttering Foundation of America: www.stutteringhelp.org

-The National Stuttering Association: www.nsastutter.org

 -The McGuire Programme: www.mcguireprogramme.com

When Should I Seek Professional Help for My Child’s Stuttering?

There is no definite answer as to when a parent should seek professional help for their child’s stuttering. However, some signs that may indicate that a child needs professional help are if the child:

-stutters severely and cannot get words out

-avoids speaking in social situations

-has a lot of anxiety or negative emotions associated with stuttering

-stutters for more than six months

-has a family history of stuttering

If you are concerned about your child’s stuttering, it is best to consult with a speech-language pathologist to get their professional opinion. They will be able to do an assessment and recommend the best course of treatment for your child.

Speech therapy referral for stuttering.

A speech therapist can assess your child’s speech and provide therapy to help them speak more fluently. There are many therapy programs available to help children who stutter, and a speech therapist can recommend the best program for your child.

If you are unsure where to find a speech therapist, your pediatrician can refer you to one. You can also contact the Stuttering Foundation of America or the National Stuttering Association for a list of therapists in your area.

The first step is to contact your insurance company and ask for a list of approved speech therapists in your area. Once you have that list, you can begin to compare the therapists’ qualifications and fees.

Conclusion

Stuttering can be tricky to manage and children who struggle with it may suffer from anxiety or negative emotions. If you are concerned about your child’s stuttering, the best thing to do is consult with a speech-language pathologist. They will be able to do an assessment and recommend the best course of treatment for your child.

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About the author

Hi. My name is Sandro Cantoni. I’m a Pediatrician. I work in the General Pediatric Clinic. Hospital of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

References

Perez HR, Stoeckle JH. Stuttering: Clinical and research update. Can Fam Physician. 2016;62(6):479-484.

Baxter S, Johnson M, Blank L, Cantrell A, Brumfitt S, Enderby P, Goyder E. Non-pharmacological treatments for stuttering in children and adults: a systematic review and evaluation of clinical effectiveness, and exploration of barriers to successful outcomes. Health Technol Assess. 2016 Jan;20(2):1-302, 

Brignell A, Krahe M, Downes M, Kefalianos E, Reilly S, Morgan A. Interventions for children and adolescents who stutter: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and evidence map. J Fluency Disord. 2021 Dec;70:105843

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