It’s an exciting time when your little one finally starts to speak and you can begin to communicate with them! Their first word is, of course, a huge milestone (and total tear-jerker moment) and then it’s amazing to watch as their vocabulary continues to grow. Everything they say is cute and entertaining, even if they might have a little stutter. Children usually outgrow stuttering, but what happens if they don’t?
What is a stutter?
Stuttering, also known as stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder, is a speech disorder characterised by frequent and significant problems with normal speech fluency and flow. People who stutter know what they want to say but struggle to say it. They may, for example, repeat or prolong a word, a syllable, or a consonant or vowel sound. They may also pause during a speech because they have reached a difficult word or sound.
Stuttering is a normal part of learning to speak for young children. When a child’s speech and language abilities aren’t developed enough to keep up with what they want to say, they may stutter.
When kids repeat words, prolong them, or stop making sounds for specific sounds or syllables, it is likely they are stuttering. It is a form of dysfluency, where speech is interrupted. There’s no need to worry too much at this stage, your little one will typically outgrow it by age five. If it doesn’t, there are plenty of ways to fix it.
How can you tell when your kid is stuttering?
At around the age of 18-24 months your little one might start showing signs of this speech problem. Your child is bursting with new words to say to you, as you can already tell from all the new words they have learned. Patience is key at this time in order to avoid making them more nervous and hesitant to speak. After a few weeks or months, the stutter normally goes away as your child gains more practice and confidence.
If your little one is showing visible tension in the face, neck, or upper body while talking, that could be another indication that that they are struggling with stuttering. Your child may also show signs of frustration, anxiety, or embarrassment while speaking.
Children who stutter may also exhibit avoidance or circumlocution strategies, such as substituting words or avoiding situations where they might have to speak.
What is the cause of stuttering?
Although the specific reason of stuttering is unknown, doctors think it has to do with a broken link between the brain’s signals and the speaking muscles. Genetics, in the opinion of many specialists, is a reliable indicator. It is more possible that your child will stammer if someone in your family did so when they were younger. Children who begin stuttering before the age of 3.5 have a significantly higher chance of outgrowing it. But if they stutter for longer than six months, that can indicate a more serious issue. Knowing this, there are several ways to assist and treat it.
How to treat stuttering
If you feel concerned about your child’s speech after a prolonged amount of time or your child starts avoiding speaking altogether or showing signs of strain, it is always best to speak with your doctor about it. There are things you can do at home to try and begin helping your child:
- Always be as patient as possible even though it might become frustrating.
- Don’t ask them to speak precisely as it might make them increasingly nervous. Instead, allow them to work through it and always encourage them to continue speaking.
- Make an effort to avoid saying things like, “slow down” or “I can’t understand you when you talk like that” as it will only increase self-consciousness.
- When you talk to your child, try to speak slowly and plainly with them, while allowing them to do the same. With this help, your little one will get more comfortable speaking and you may find they simply grow out of it.
What complications can stuttering cause?
Children stuttering can lead to issues such as problems with communication, anxiety around speaking, avoiding situations where speaking is required, being teased or bullied, low self-esteem and missing out on school or social activities.
When should I see a doctor or a speech therapist?
If your child is stuttering, your doctor may recommend you see a speech therapist who specialises in children. Speech therapy might be the best course of action to help your little one gain their confidence and improve their speech and communication skills.
Call your doctor for a referral or contact a speech-language pathologist directly for an appointment if stuttering:
- Lasts more than six months
- Occurs with other speech or language problems
- Becomes more frequent or continues as the child grows older
- Occurs with muscle tightening or visibly struggling to speak
- Affects the ability to effectively communicate at school, at work or in social interactions
- Causes anxiety or emotional problems, such as fear or avoidance of situations where speaking is required