True Stuttering or Developmental Stuttering?
As Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist’s we are often met by frightful parents, grandparents and even Early Interventionist who fear a young one is stuttering! Just to be clear, stuttering or disfluency could be a repetition of a word or phrase such as “I-I-I wanna go. or “I wanna-I wanna-I wanna go.” to a prolongation “IIIIIIIIII wanna go.” or a block where a person opens their mouth to speak and and nothing comes out. Sometimes facial grimaces or body movements are associated with stammering. This is not new! Some rather famous people are also known stutterers! Take for example Marilyn Monroe, who sang with a raspy voice, this was a technique she developed to help her maintain fluent speech. John Stossel, a noted Fox News Journalist, has done several in depth stories on stuttering and manages his stuttering well enough to host a weekly show on air! Believe it or not Joe Biden overcame the embarrassment of stuttering as a child.
Okay but what about children who stutter? When as a parent you hear your young child struggle to get our a word or a thought, it’s painstakingly difficult and we just want it to stop! We often times, well meaningfully say, “STOP! Think about what you want to say then tell mommy.” When is all actuality it’s frustrating and puts them under further stress to perform. So how can we as parents know if our child is going through what’s known as developmental stuttering or if they are truly developing a stuttering problem? Here are 5 Facts about developmental stuttering you need to know and keep in the forefront of your mind if your child begins to be disfluent.
Fact 1: Most children between the ages of 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 go through a language explosion. During this time they are gaining understanding of words and using more words than ever before. Because of this language explosion, their ability to talk can not keep up with their brain! Then it happens. They stammer and repeat words or phrases over and over and they are not even aware of what they are doing. As parents we want to say it for them or their siblings try and rescue them by telling us what they are trying to say. This sibling interruption again only adds to their stress and frustration.
Fact 2: Most developmental stuttering only lasts between 3-6 months sometimes even less! If your child is experiencing repetitions or prolongations, make a note of when you began to notice them experiencing trouble. Then move 3 months forward in your calendar and write your self a note “Still Stuttering?” and then move to 6 months forward in your calendar and write yourself another note. If you hit these milestones and the stuttering is still present or your child began stuttering after they turned 4, seek professional help from your pediatrician or a licensed Speech Language Pathologist.
Fact 3: Developmental stuttering is almost always worse when the child is tired, excited, upset or being rushed to speak. When a child is stressed or pressured, their anxiety goes up and more disfluencies will occur. Try and have time set aside daily in which your child can talk to you uninterrupted by the phone or siblings. Use this time to read to them so they hear you model slow easy speech. Try to evaluate your families schedule and look at what could be eliminated for a season to give them time to mature through the developmental stuttering. You possibly could allow your spouse to attend an older siblings game and stay home and have a calm evening with the child experiencing developmental stuttering.
Fact 4: A child with developmental stuttering typically does not have another speech disorder or a family history of stuttering. If your child has another speech and language disorder, such as a phonological disorder or Apraxia, make sure you don’t delay sharing the disfluency your child is experiencing with his/her Speech Language Pathologist. If you child is not being seen or is being seen infrequently, call your pediatrician to ask for a referral to a speech language pathologist who specializes in stuttering. The Stuttering Foundation has a chart that is useful in determining the risk factors of children developing true stuttering. Click here to see the chart.
Fact 5: A child with developmental stuttering will independently grow out of this phase and not need speech therapy. If a child is truly experiencing an explosion of language development, they will grow out of it generally by 6 months. Some boys may stutter a little longer to 9 months but it is rare. Document on a family calendar when you noticed the onset and wait for a few months to see if you begin noticing them do it less or if it’s increasing. If it is increasing, talk to your pediatrician or a friend who may know a speech language pathologist that could give you some direction as to what your next steps should include. Different states have different laws about how they are served and when to hire a private therapist, so ask around.
Finally, you may want to print the handout below and post the cards around the house to help remind you of some easy things to do to help your child through this developmental phase.