Stuttering in Kids: Help, Don’t Correct
We all can express our thoughts and feelings through different means. If we express ourselves by articulating sounds, then we communicate thanks to the power of speech. There are also times when many of us do not speak smoothly. We may add a sound such as “uh” or “you know” to what we say more than once in a full sentence. These are called disfluencies and are normal when they only happen occasionally.
A normal disfluency can be mistaken for stuttering.
An occasional repetition of sounds, syllables, or short words in a child between 18 months and seven years old is typical and is not related to stuttering in the future. This can sometimes be concerning for parents. However, speech is like any new milestone children learn, and they can have some obstacles along the way.
Mild stuttering may worsen with emotions, such as excitement, or abrupt emotional changes at home. As long as slight stuttering does not distress the parent or child, no referral to a specialist is necessary. However, there are some signs to look out for that would indicate further evaluation is needed.
If stuttering is present most of the time, continues for six to eight weeks, worsens or causes anxiety to the parent or child, an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist is warranted.
How can we recognize our kids are anxious because of stuttering?
Stuttering can interfere with the way our children communicate. They will try to avoid certain words or even refuse to talk. It is essential for the little ones that we can promptly recognize the signs of stuttering, know when to get help, and how we can assist them at home.
There are some critical changes for improving a stuttering child’s environment. Family members should speak slower, with a more relaxed rate of speech and simpler language, and wait a few seconds after the child speaks before responding. If home life is excessively busy, a calmer style should be attempted.
Parents should make sure the child has at least a few minutes of individual attention each day. It is vital to eliminate correction or criticism as this can lower the child’s self-esteem. Most importantly, family members should celebrate the child’s strengths and emphasize that the child is accepted the way he or she is, thereby increasing the child’s confidence.
With appropriate therapy and effective changes at home, the majority of stuttering kids can improve. The key factors are recognition, seeking help, effective home modifications, and of course, reassurance, and love.
Carly Brand, M.D., Pediatric Chief Resident 2019 – 2020
Alejandra Mac-Quhae, M.D., Pediatrics –PGY 2