By Bláthíne Maguire, Senior Paediatric Speech & Language Therapist, Sensational Kids Monaghan
Stammering and stuttering are often used interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? Let’s delve into this issue and explore the world of fluency in children. Stammering, which tends to start between the ages of 2 and 5 when children are learning to talk, is a topic that Sensational Kids, a social enterprise and charity based in Ireland, takes seriously. They emphasise the importance of early intervention and support from Speech & Language Therapists, especially considering that about 75% of children will grow out of stammering within 12 months.
The Distinction: Stammering vs. Stuttering
Stammering and stuttering mean the same thing. In America, they tend to call is stuttering and this side of the water, in Ireland and the UK, it’s generally referred to as Stammering.
The Role of Speech and Language Therapists
Speech and Language Therapists play a pivotal role in determining the most appropriate course of action for each child. Early intervention is key, making it important to seek support as soon as stammering is noticed. However it is also helpful to be aware of something called ‘normal non-fluency’.
‘Normal Non-Fluency’ is a typical part of language development. Between the ages of 2 and 3 years, young children are intensively learning and processing language. Because of this, it is natural to hear some ‘bumpy’ talking. A lot of parents panic and think their child has developed a stammer but more often at this young age, it is just some fumbling as children are learning how to put language together. Some signs of ‘Normal Non-Fluency’ include:
- Repeating sounds or words e.g. “I I I I… want juice” or “it’s a l l l lion”
- Using filler sounds or words e.g. where’s the em em em em monkey?
- Prolonging a sound e.g. I see mmmmmmummy
- The child is relaxed. There is no facial tension or appearance of struggle when talking
- It may be noticed at times when the child is particularly emotional, excited or tired.
- It can also come and go across several weeks and sometimes months.
Do children grow out of normal non-fluency?
Yes, it is important to take notice of the word ‘normal’ within the term ‘normal non-fluency. Hearing some stumbling or ‘bumpy talking’ tells us that your child is in a growth stage of language learning and when this passes, it is likely they will be more fluent. Parents should wait and monitor this for a few months. If the fluency does not improve or the disruptions become frequent, seek professional help from a Speech & Language Therapist.
Effective Communication Strategies
Supporting a child who stammers requires patience and understanding. Whether your child is experiencing ‘normal non-fluency’ or stammering, Sensational Kids recommends the following strategies to help children communicate effectively:
- Give Time and Space
Provide the child or young person plenty of time to finish what they are saying. Rushing them can exacerbate the stammering. You might want to even stop what you are doing and get down on their level so the child really knows you are listening.
- Slow Down Your Own Speech
Consider your own rate of speech and try to slow it down. Using pauses in your speech can help the child to slow down their speech more effectively than simply telling them to do so. Avoid saying things like “slow-down” or “take your time”, as this can make the child feel like there is a problem with their talking. If adults use a slow rate of speech, children tend to mirror this naturally.
- Encourage Turn-Taking
Ensure good turn-taking throughout the home or school environment. Remind everyone to wait and listen for the person to finish talking and do not let anyone interrupt. This creates a supportive and patient atmosphere.
- Emotional Awareness
Be aware that stammering is likely to be more severe when the child is emotional, such as when talking about something exciting or anxiety-inducing. Give them extra time and be particularly aware of slowing down your talking in these situations.
- Simplify Language
Use simple language when speaking with a child who stammers. This reduces pressure on their talking and makes communication more manageable.
- Comments Over Questions
Opt for comments (“That’s a fab picture!”) rather than questions (“What have you drawn?”). This approach reduces pressure on the child’s talking while still providing openings for conversation.
- Encourage and Praise
Praise the child in all aspects of their development. Think about being specific with your praise, “wow that’s a beautiful drawing, you are so artist” “you’ve been such a great help today, thank you for being so clean and tidy”. Building confidence and self esteem is a great tool to support overall development.
In conclusion, stammering in young children is a common occurrence, but it’s essential to understand the nuances and provide appropriate support. Sensational Kids emphasises the significance of early intervention and the vital role that Speech & Language Therapists play in helping children overcome stammering. By employing these strategies and fostering a supportive environment, we can ensure that children who stammer have every opportunity to communicate effectively and build their confidence.