Hearing your child struggle when trying to get the words out is a painful experience for each parent. But is it a true stuttering?
Young kids often go through a period of "developmental stuttering" as they learn to use new words and sentence structures. These disfluencies are associated with this period of rapid language growth. Guitar states that 75% of these children recover without intervention.
When does your child need to be seen by a speech-language pathologist?
There are many different opinions, but the general consensus is that a child needs help when:
1) the disfluencies have been present for the past 6 months
2) there is a history of stuttering in the family
3) boys are three times more likely to have a fluency problem
4) you notice tension in the face, neck or shoulders when your child talks
5) your child is very sensitive to the way he or she speaks and is starting to avoid speaking situations
6) you notice an interruption of breathing as the child speaks (e.g., the child runs out of breath in the middle of a word)
What does stuttering look like?
Stuttering and cluttering are fluency disorders characterized by interruption in the rhythm of speaking in the form of sound/ word repetitions, prolongations, and blocks.
Disfluency is another word for stuttering.
There are three basic (or primary) speech behaviours associated with stuttering: repetitions, prolongations, and blocks.
Repetitions are the most frequently observed of the three. They are most evident when a person initiates speaking and come in the form of a single sound, syllable, word or phrase repetition.
"I I I I I want to go outside to park with dad."
Prolongations are characterized by uneven duration of sounds in words (e.g., some sounds are last longer than they should).
"Wwwwwwe were playing inside because it was raining."
Blocks are another core stuttering behaviour. The individual tries to say something, but appears stuck and is unable to produce the word.
"I am looking for my....keys."
Secondary behaviours are physical manifestations (e.g., eye blinks, tension in the upper body, tremor of the face, etc.) of stuttering which develop over time as the awareness of the individual of his or her difficulty increases. The speaker is using these behaviours when anticipating a period of stuttering.
Interjections are avoidance behaviours typically observed in older kids or adults who have had a fluency problem for some time. Interjections are used to "mask" the stuttering. Sometimes inserting little words like "um", "uh" or ''hm" helps them find a word which might be easier for them to say and avoid a moment of stuttering.
"Um I am going to call um my friend um Nora to see if she wants to see the movie with me."
Stuttering is a difficult disorder to treat for many reasons. One of its most perplexing features is its unpredictable nature - it comes and goes, only to return in a few days, weeks, months or even years. Nobody can predict how long the stuttering will last for and when it will disappear.
Along with the most obvious characteristics - the primary and the secondary behaviours - speech-language pathologists also have to address the feelings of each individuals who stutters. Some kids are very sensitive to the way they sound and might choose to avoid speaking situations due to their fear of stuttering; others seem not to notice their problem and show little motivation to participate in therapy.
Despite all challenges, I believe that even the most severe stuttering can be overcome. "Once a stutterer, always a stutterer" is an erroneous statement. We now know a lot about stuttering and the success of many of the excellent treatment programs have been documented. All it takes is some patience, persistence and determination. And a great therapist like Lionel!
Guitar, B. (2013) Stuttering: An Integrated Approach to Its Nature and Treatment.