- Lindsey O'Neill MA, CCC-SLP
Stuttering in Young Children
Researchers (Yairi & Ambrose, 2005) have found that 95% of children who stutter, start displaying stuttering-like disfluencies before they're 5 years old. Some young children experience a short period of disfluency that resolves without targeted intervention. However, there is also a difference between typical disfluencies and stuttering-like disfluencies.
Nearly all speakers, including (yes, even speech-language pathologists) myself, produce what are known as typical disfluencies. For example, silent pauses and hesitations are typical disfluencies. Other examples include nonword fillers (e.g. I need a uh pen) and interjections as word fillers (e.g. The table is like oak). Whole-word repetitions (e.g. This this is not fair.) and phrase repetitions/revisions (e.g. I do not-I do not believe it.), are also considered to be typical or "nonstuttered" disfluencies. If your child uses a high frequency of these disfluencies, a speech-language pathologist can help determine if therapy is warranted.
If your child demonstrates the following stuttering-like disfluencies, which are less typical, I encourage you to seek an evaluation. These are red flags:
blocks: these are inaudible or silent pauses when a child may also be unable to imitate a sound.
sound prolongations: I want ssssssssssssssssssoup.
part-word or sound/syllable repetitions: Be be cause I w w w want to.
Additionally, if your child shows physical symptoms such as facial tension, becomes very frustrated or shuts down due to their stuttering, I encourage you to seek an evaluation. The Stuttering Foundation has an abundance of great resources, such as this Risk Factors chart, which may also help you decide when to see a speech-language pathologist.
If your child stutters, you may be wondering how to best provide support at home. I'm going to share a few helpful tips of things to do and not to do in order to help your child.
What Not to Do
Stuttering can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening for young children who are trying to find their place in the world and build social relationships in their community and at school. Contrary to our best-intentions, sometimes adults can increase a child's awareness of their stuttering to a point where it hurts their confidence- hence, why sometimes children who stutter withdraw from speaking situations.
Here are things I gently suggest you don't do or say if your young child stutters.
1. Tell them to "stop stuttering", "stop", or "slow down".
2. Rush them to finish saying their intended message.
3. Visibly show frustration when they struggle to get their words out.
These may sound like no-brainers, but we are all human and sometimes as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we make mistakes.
What to Do
Instead of the above, I recommend doing the following to help support a young child who stutters.
1. Recast their message in a slow, smooth, rate of speech. For example, if your child says "The cccccat is eat-eat-eating my cheese", after your child has finished you can say, "The cat is eating your cheese" in a slow, controlled manner.
2. Make eye contact with your child and allow them extra time to communicate. Nod your head, smile, show them you have confidence in them and are in no hurry. Their speech matters!
3. Thank your child for sharing their thoughts/ideas with you. Praise them when they use their "smooth" speech. Model. Model. Model. Speaking in a slow, controlled manner, is a great way to model fluent speech for your child.
Last but not least of course, reach out to a speech-language pathologist who can help determine if your child may benefit from therapy. Thank you for reading.
For more information, visit ASHA's Childhood Fluency Disorder page.
Have a wonderful week! :)