From two to five years of age, your child is undergoing a period of language and speech development. During this time as the child tries to process language and communicate, some children may experience a temporary phase of stuttering. Stuttering is a speech disorder, whereby normal speech is disrupted by repetition, extension or non-verbalization of certain sounds or words. These can vary in severity, and may be more pronounced under stressful conditions such as speaking in front of the class. In some children, they may also unconsciously have prominent hand or body movements as they struggle to speak fluently.
Causes of Stuttering?
There are no definitive causes of stuttering but certain risk factors have been identified that increase the likelihood of stuttering. Genetics play a role, as a majority of the children who stutter also have a close family member who stutters. Children who stutter for longer than six months are less likely to outgrow it. Stuttering is also more likely to affect boys and has been linked to neurological factors due to different pathways in how the brain processes speech. While some children outgrow stuttering, parents should be concerned when several of the above risk factors are present. The age of when stuttering starts is also linked to the likelihood of the child outgrowing it; for instance, children who start stuttering before age 2 are more likely to outgrow the stuttering.
Tips for Communicating with Your Child
For children who stutter, parents can play an important role in helping the child to be more confident and gradually overcome the stuttering. Parents can help by being supportive when conversing with the child and providing a relaxed home environment.
When talking to your child, try to talk slowly and be patient in waiting for your child’s response. Do not show irritation, interrupt or rush your child to speak faster. Practice good listening and do not look away from your child because you are embarrassed. Ask the other caregivers and family members to do the same, so that the home environment becomes a safe and stress-free practicing ground for your child. Make more time for your child to communicate.
The home environment where most of the verbal communications occur for the child (outside of school) should be calm and relaxed. Try to be sensitive to when your child appear most stressed and see if these external factors can be reduced so that the home is a relaxed place for your child to speak.
Help without putting the spotlight on your child
While you may think it is helpful to keep reminding the child to speak slowly or clearer, it may be counter-productive. Instead, do not put your child on the spot nor draw attention to his stuttering. Schedule more talking time without distraction (such as television or electronic devices), and have fun when talking with your child.
Treatment for Stuttering
If the stuttering gets worse, especially if your child is more than 3 years old and have been stuttering for more than six months, treatment should be considered. Stuttering is more severe when it is more frequent; for instance, certain repetitions or prolongation of words get more common. Also, if there is facial tension, vocal tension (higher pitch and volume) or uncontrolled facial or body movements, these are also signs that your child may need treatment.
In recent years, it is recognized that seeking treatment earlier for your child will increase the chances of success of the therapy. It is therefore advised to do so earlier if you feel that stuttering is getting worse and has become a problem for your child. Speech therapy is the common treatment for stuttering, and in Singapore, there are therapies available at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and also at private clinics. When choosing a speech therapist, it is helpful to find out the following:
– Experience of the therapist, including experience working with children
– Cost of the treatment, and the time and length of each session
– Whether the sessions are conducted at the clinic or outside environment
– Goals that the speech therapist set, and whether the work to achieve the goal involve parents
– Whether the goals are realistic and clearly defined, such as which areas of the interrupted speech to improve on
Once you decide to proceed with therapy, there should be an initial assessment during the first consultation, followed by a treatment plan. In certain cases, individual therapy sessions are required to correct certain issues (such as how to produce the right sounds) while in other cases, group therapy session may be organized. It is important to observe your child and help him as once stuttering extends to school age, it can affect your child’s emotions and confidence.