Stuttering is a speech problem that interrupts the flow of speech. While doctors don’t know exactly what causes stuttering in children, they believe it can be passed down from generation to generation. It can also be brought on by strong emotions such as fear or surprise, or it can be caused by another speech or language disorder. Stuttering can sometimes make it hard to communicate.
Stuttering can be a normal part of learning to use words, and most children grow out of it as they get more comfortable with their vocabulary and learn the rules of language. However, if it lasts for more than six months, you should ask your child’s doctor about it. Your pediatrician can provide recommendations for testing and speech therapy if needed.
Types of Stuttering
Developmental stutter is the most common. It begins at an early age and sometimes happens when a child is delayed and is having trouble making a connection between what they want to say and how to say it.
Neurogenic (nervous system) stutter happens because of brain trauma. This can be a brain injury due to an accident or something like a stroke. When brain trauma happens, the brain has trouble sending signals to the muscles and nerves that are needed to communicate.
Psychogenic (emotional conflict or stress) stutter is caused by emotional trauma or by thinking and reasoning problems in a child.
What Are the Symptoms of Stuttering in Children?
Every child is different and may have stuttering that happens along with normal development of speech and language habits. Symptoms can include:
- Slowed speech with pauses
- Stopped or blocked speech — when they try to speak but nothing comes out
- Nervous talking, being out of breath, fast blinking, trembling or shaking
- Repeating syllables, words, or sounds, for example, “H-h-h-hello”
- Using “um” or “like” a lot while speaking
- Increased stuttering when tired, emotional, or stressed
Possible Complications of Stuttering in Children
Children who are aware of their stutter are often worried about what others think of them. When they are worried about how people will treat them, they may not participate in activities or classes as much as other children. This can lead to poor performance in school. Children with a stutter can have lower self-esteem and social awkwardness as well.
How Parents Can Help
Patience is key. Give your child time to talk — don’t interrupt them or tell them to slow down. Teach your child by modeling better speech habits, such as:
- Slowing your own speech
- Pausing between sentences and speaking in a relaxed way
- Using techniques to reduce pressure in situations where your child must speak
- Rephrasing questions as comments
The best thing to do is talk about it with your child if they are aware of their stuttering. Let them know it is okay that they speak differently. If your child is not aware of it, there is no need to point it out and make them worry about it until you feel it is the right time to get professional help for them.
Be sure to encourage your child to talk to you and pay attention to them while they speak, too. Additionally, talk to your child’s teachers and other adults in their lives about your child’s situation.
Treatment for Stuttering
Early treatment is important to reduce or eliminate stuttering in children. After age 7, it becomes more about managing the stuttering than eliminating it:
- Direct treatment is when a speech-language pathologist works with your child, alone or in small groups. During this time, your child is taught strategies for easing into words and reducing tension during a stuttering episode. Your child will learn to become more aware of the difference between smooth and bumpy or stuttered speech.
- Indirect treatment is when a speech-language pathologist works with caregivers to modify their speech to model to their children. This is a very effective approach for the reduction of stuttering.
If you think your child is having speech difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician. Before your appointment, write down questions you want to ask and symptoms you have noticed in your child’s verbal habits. Also, note any medications that your child is taking, including vitamins, as well as any allergies they have.
While at your appointment, write things down or ask for written information sheets. There can be a lot of information all at once, and it is ok to ask for things to be repeated so that you can make note of them.