Stammering is the term used to describe a difficulty in the timing and flow of speech, resulting in dysfluent speech. Its onset in children is typically between the ages of 2 ½ and 7 years of age.
Children under 5 years of age are likely to have lots of periods of ‘normal non-fluency’. This is considered a typical part of language development as the child practises and learns to use speech sounds while they learn to talk. This is not stammering and resolves spontaneously as the child gets older.
The cause of stammering is unknown, but it is believed to be due to a combination of elements rather than one sole factor. These elements may include environmental factors such as the location where speech happens and emotional factors such as stress or the speaker’s perception of their own speech. Family history of stammering may also be a factor.
But what does stammering sound like? There are several dysfluencies which are linked with stammering and these include:
- Repetitions which are repeated sounds or repeated parts of a word e.g. m-m-m-m mammy
- Blocking: where sound completely stops
- Prolongations or stretching and lengthening of sounds e.g. dddddddddddaddy
Early intervention for stammering is highly beneficial in minimising the long-term impact of stammering. If you are concerned about your child’s fluency or have noticed any sudden struggle in speaking, or if stammering continues for a few months or becomes more noticeable, it is advisable to refer for Speech and Language Therapy. A Speech and Language Therapist will conduct a full assessment to investigate stammering and provide specific intervention strategies to support your child in developing fluent speech.
In the interim, there are some general strategies which would be beneficial to utilise to support your child. Here are some suggestions:
- Give your child as much time as possible when speaking.
- Give your child plenty of time to respond to others’ speech.
- Slow down your own rate of speech rather than encouraging your child to slow down.
- Encourage all family members to model relaxed speech.
- Reduce environmental distractors at home, reducing background noise where possible.
- Try to reduce the amount of questions you ask and allow your child to speak freely where possible.
- Engage in natural eye contact.
- Try to refrain from interrupting your child when they speak.
- Use short sentences.
- Try to have some one-to-one time each day with your child.
- Keep routine and structure as much as possible.
- Try not to show your child that you are concerned
Article written by Elaine Baldwin, Senior Speech & Language Therapist at Sensational Kids, West Cork. Elaine has undertaken further professional development training in The Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering Intervention .