Signs Of Stammering In Kids & How You Can Help

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Stuttering always starts in the parent’s ear and not in a child’s mouth -Wendal Johnson. 

Stuttering is a fluency disorder and it includes repetition of sounds and hesitations. Repeating sounds, adding extra sounds, elongating words, jerky movements involving head and other body movements, blinking several times, visible frustration, long pauses and hard blocks are some of the commonly noticed symptoms. 

Speech And Language During Early Years

Parents generally notice symptoms related to stuttering mainly between 2-5 years. It is during these years that children learn to combine nouns, verbs, adjectives into grammatically correct sentences and their vocabulary increase manifold.

In these early years, children are exposed to divergent experiences within family or external which are either enjoyable, comfortable, stressful, disliked, forceful or frightful. In order to communicate these experiences, children start using speech and language. They learn language skills, use appropriate language in different social settings. It is during this period that most children develop fine motor coordination required for smooth production of speech. 

Normal Non-Fluent Speech And Actual Fluency Issues- How To Differentiate? 

Stuttering in children is one of the most challenging areas to work with for a speech therapist because it involves differentiating normal non-fluency behaviours from actual fluency issues. So, how does one differentiate between the two?

A normal dysfluent child has

  • No secondary behaviours like eye blinking and frustration. Additionally, they don’t develop negative reactions like avoidance, escape or tension.
  • They are less likely to repeat sounds or syllables (iii wwant) but will repeat whole words (I want,I want ).
  • Their occurrence of dysfluency is one in 10 sentences. 

During the early developmental stages of speech and language, children are not only mastering one or more languages but are also learning the fine nuances of the correct pronunciation of words. The child is unaware of the so-called dysfluency(breaks or disruptions that occur in speech) but unwittingly gets tremendously affected with negative behaviours like constant corrections, advice, admonishes and comparisons. This reaction from parents and family leads to stress and anxiety in a young child resulting in a lack of confidence and hesitancies.

Children also start showing overt behaviours like body movements, facial grimacing or using filler sounds (hmm,aah) to overcome fluency

Developmental stuttering is the most common type of stuttering. Typical among children in the ages of 2-6 who are learning to speak, it usually goes away on its own. (only 5% develop into stutterers). As an expert, I have in the recent past helped over 100 children manage stuttering related issues, in addition to helping address several other childhood-related speech and language disorders.

When To Seek Help From A Speech Therapist?

One of the key things to be aware of is to know when exactly to seek help from a professional speech therapist. A speech therapist can offer thorough assessment, reaching a diagnosis and providing intervention using appropriate standardised testing tools like SSI4, REELS etc. Therapyin most cases, is through indirect approaches wherein primary caregivers are counselled and trained in handling their child’s developmental hiccups related to speech and language development. 

Here’s when you must reach out to a speech therapist 

  • When your child is repeating sounds such as give me m- m -m-milk.
  • Prolongation of sound – give me mmmmmilk struggle or block when speaking.
  • Secondary behaviours like facial grimace, jerky movements and eye blinking.
  • Child exhibits negative reactions to his disfluency.
  • If there is a family history of stutter
  • Persistent disfluency for more than 4-6 months.

Online Learning And The Impact Of The Pandemic On Children Who Stutter

In the present Covid-19 situation, with online teaching becoming a norm, children who stutter face additional and new challenges. Inability to effectively communicate with classmates and teachers, interruptions by other children, lack of time for completing sentences, not being able to participate proactively in classroom discussion are some of the issues they face. They tend to be anxious over oral presentations through virtual media. To add to this, the insensitive attitude of teachers towards their oral performance has a huge impact on them. 

How Can Teachers Help?

  1. Be empowered – Learn about stuttering from a qualified Speech and Language Therapist and avoid misconceptions and myths.
  2. Be a good speech model – Reduce the rate of speech to provide enough time for the child to organise words in grammatical order and vocabulary.  Pause 3-5 seconds  before responding to questions. Use simple vocabulary and grammar. Occasionally use normal non-fluencies like ‘umm’ or ‘ahh’ or repeat whole words or pause.
  3. Use techniques to improve the child’s self-esteem- Get to know the child better with individual meetings, be a patient listener, do not instruct on how to be fluent, do not complete words for the child when he/she is talking. Emphasis should be on content rather than the manner of speech. Treat the child equally to ensure equal participation in oral activities but do help them in private before their presentation and address their fears and concerns. Do not reduce expectations but always provide accommodations for successful outcomes like asking simple yes/no questions, single word answers and gradually increase the complexity of replies.

In conclusion, never make the error of labelling a young child who is in the developmental stage of speech and language -a stutterer. 

We hope you have found this informative. If you have speech-related questions you would like answered please do write to us in the comments below and we will get an expert to answer them for you. 

Looking for SPEECH THERAPY ?

Before you start, get an expert speech assessment at home. Book your assessment today.

This article first appeared in Kidsstoppress

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