You might hear lots of different words and terminology being used; stammering, stuttering, dysfluency or even normal non-fluency. They are all referring to the repetition of sounds, syllables, words and sometimes phrases when someone talks. Sometimes the sound can be elongated or exaggerated rather than repeated and sometimes the person may not be able to start the word or sentence they want to say.
Around 5% of children between the ages of 2 and 7 will experience some sort of dysfluency. However only 1% of adults do; so for most children this will be a ‘phase’ of their language development. Children are learning so many new words each day that sometimes they just need a little more time to remember the word they want to say. Periods of dysfluency may well come and go and this is normal. It is more likely to be noticeable when the child is tired or excited.
Talking to parents and teachers, one theme that comes up again and again is not knowing when to seek help; you are aware that there is an issue but does it need professional help? Dysfluency or stammering or stuttering, which ever word you use, definitely falls into this category as many children experience periods of dysfluency and it often comes and goes. Many people have told me that they were just about to get their child referred, or just had and then their child stopped repeating words. So I thought I’d start with some signs to look for that indicate you should seek out assessment from a speech therapist:-
– Is there any family history of dysfluency and did it persist into adulthood?
– Has your child been repeating words for more than a few months?
– Does it sound like your child is getting stuck on a word or sound and can’t say anything?
– Can you see any other behaviours that accompany the dysfluency; such as clenched fists or shaking arms/ legs?
– Is your child aware that they are repeating words?
If you feel that any of the above are true for your child, it would be advisable to seek out an assessment. Also, remember that you know your child best and if you feel this is not right, seek out an assessment as well. You are your child’s advocate and you are the expert on them.
Things to try at home:-
– Slow down: We are all so busy and have to be out of the house in 2 minutes, or finishing homework, reading and then getting ready for bed, that it’s tricky to take your time at things. When you can, try reducing the number of words you are using and slow down the speed of your speech. This will help reduce the demand to speak quickly.
– Show you are listening: It’s really important to show the child that you are interested in what they are saying, not how they are saying it. Get down to their level, maintain normal eye contact (try not to stare or look aware too much!) and let them talk. If you can’t do it then, tell them that you will talk about it later.
– Play time: Have fun playing with your child, but let them take the lead. Rather than asking questions about what is happening, just comment on what they are doing.
– Take turns: Try and make sure that everyone at home takes their turn to speak and doesn’t interrupt others (too much!)
– Don’t label it: If you want to talk to your child about their speech, don’t use words like stammering or stuttering. Instead talk about ‘bumpy speech’ ‘or ‘getting stuck’.
– Encouragement: Praise your child for the things they do well. However if you feel they are aware or embarrassed about their speech, acknowledge this in a supportive way. Maybe say something like “I can tell you are finding that tricky to say, don’t worry, talking can be tricky sometimes”. This should reassure your child that you understand and there is nothing to worry about.