Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuttering in Children -Helpful tips for parents-Parent Magazine


by Lori Melnitsky, MA CCC-SLP

What is stuttering? What causes it? Although, the exact cause is unknown, there are known environmental factors that contribute to stuttering. Ideally, it is the goal of working with young children who stutter to eliminate disfluencies while involving parents in the process. Stuttering is an interruption of the continuous flow of speech. It can be characterized as prolongations (sssssssssnake), repetitions of words (I I I want milk) or phrases (I want I want milk), frequent use of filler words (uh, um), blocking (silence and struggle before saying a word).

Between the ages of 2 and 5, many children experience stuttering. This is often considered a period of normal disfluencies. Why? One reason is that children are still coordinating their speech patterns and acquiring language during this stage. Will these children outgrow it? The majority will, but there is no way of knowing for sure. This is why consulting a speech/language pathologist at the onset is vital.

Did you know that approximately 1 % of the population stutters? Additionally, 4 out of 5 people who stutter are male. Many times there is a family member who stutters. One known fact is that parents are NOT at fault. Also, stuttering is not a contagious disease. No one will start to stutter if they hear another person stuttering.

What are some of the characteristics of normal developmental disfluencies?

1. The child does not exhibit struggle behaviors (such as kicking his foot) or display awareness of how they sound.
2. Disfluent moments can disappear and then unexpectedly reappear days or months later.
3. The child is not avoiding speaking situations or displaying frustration.
4. Easy repetitions of words and short phrases.

When does stuttering become more of a concern?

1. Children who are at risk usually exhibit struggle behaviors while forcing words out (such as unusual breathing patterns, or facial grimacing).
2. They often avoid feared words or speaking situations. Fear and frustration is often visible.
3. Saying “I don’t know” often in response to obvious questions or changing words. These are forms of avoidance.
4. Using filler words often (like, um, uh).
5. Prolongations of sounds (ssssssssnake). Stuttering might become longer in duration.
6. Change in intonation patterns (rising pitch during the period of stuttering).
7. Blocking on words, such as opening mouth with no audible sound coming out. Disruptions in breathing patterns.
8. Stuttering becomes more frequent.

What do you do if you suspect your child is stuttering?

1. Seek out the help of a speech/language pathologist experienced with stuttering. Often, doctors and family members will say ”Wait, the child will grow out of it”. This is often incorrect and increases tension in the family. Always consult with a SLP for advice. They may monitor the child or provide parents with information to help their child. They might use a direct therapeutic approach with the child or with both the child and parents.
2. Be a good listener--pay close attention to what is being said NOT how it is being said. Look directly into the child’s eyes to show that you are truly listening to the message.
3. Reduce questioning. This will decrease demands placed on the child.
4. Avoid putting the child in the spotlight-ex: “Tell Aunt Sue what you did in school today”. This puts too much pressure on the child.
5. Avoid comments like talk slower. Try and model a slow relaxed natural sounding speech pattern. (This is difficult. SLPs will demonstrate this for you).
6. Delay responding to allow for more pauses and reduce time pressure for the child.
7. Don’t ask the child to repeat the sentence. It will only increase awareness and frustration.
8. Most importantly, don’t panic!!! Although we can’t identify who will eventually stop stuttering, we can give advice to parents on how to talk to a child who stutters and model the appropriate way to respond.
9. Remember it is not your fault. Parents are NOT to blame.

All of these strategies will be easier to follow once you have met with a speech/language pathologist.

There are also more direct therapy approaches available if stuttering persists. For the school aged child who continues to stutter, there is still hope. Although the chances of outgrowing stuttering decrease after age 6, there are strategies available to improve communication and decrease stuttering. Children at this age often become highly aware of being different from their peers. It is important to work with a SLP on not only speech strategies, but ways to handle everyday speaking situations.

Remember parents your words, are like candy to a child. They eat them up. Be kind, patient and loving. Most importantly, consult a speech/language pathologist if you suspect your child is stuttering.

For more information, please contact Lori Melnitsky. Lori is a speech language pathologist (SLP) who stuttered severely as a child and specializes in treating children and adults who stutter in Plainview, NY. She is available for therapy, parent workshops at schools, consultations, and presentations at local universities. She is the chapter leader of the National Stuttering Association Adult and teen chapters on LI and founder of the LI Stuttering Connection. She is in private practice and treats children and adults who stutter as well as other speech and language disorders. Lori can be contacted at 516-776-0184 or via e-mail: (

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