WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
A family affair
The realization that a child is struggling to speak
fluently is an alarming and unexpected experience for
many parents. But for parents who remember stuttering
themselves as children (and those for whom the problem
persists) recognizing that their own child is stuttering
is something that they have probably anticipated having
to deal with one day. Similarly, parents with older
children who stutter probably get that awful "here we go
again" feeling when their toddler or preschooler starts
|People who stutter, and who are well-informed about the
problem, are aware that stuttering tends to run in
What they may not know is that many of the 'stuttering
myths' that prevailed in earlier times have been exposed
as so much superstition and folklore through
international scientific research. Nowadays there is a
range of successful treatments available for children
who stutter. Most of these treatments were unavailable
to their parents.
If you are the parent of a child who stutters, you will
be relieved to know that it is a speech problem, and not
an emotional or psychological one. And you will also be
reassured to know that stuttering can be treated
successfully by speech pathologists.
What are the characteristics of stuttering?
Stuttering (called 'stammering' in the UK and parts of
the US) disrupts the fluency of speech. Hence,
"stutters" are often referred to as "dysfluencies" or "nonfluencies".
They may be in the form of prolongations, blocks or
repetitions. One or any combination of these features
may be present, consistently or variably.
Prolongations do not occur in the speech of all little
children who stutter. When they do, a vowel or a
consonant, somewhere in a word, is lengthened, for
"Aaaaaaask her if I can come."
"Pu-------put it back!"
"Is that y------yours?"
Blocks are periods of silence or silent struggle, and
are common in young children who stutter. The child
seems unable to make a sound, attempting to force words
out, with her mouth open, or her lips firmly closed. Her
speech mechanism appears to be "blocked":
"Do my b----utton up."
"R---ub it out."
Repetitions are the most common feature of stuttering,
and may include repetitions of vowels, consonants,
syllables, words or phrases.
"B-b-b-b-but not now."
"Bu-bu-bu-bu-but not now."
"But-but-but-but but not now."
"But not - but not - but not - but not now."
Some children are unaware that they are stuttering, but
others, probably most, are very aware. They may become
exasperated or upset and say things like:
"My words won't come out."
"I can't say it."
"I can't talk properly."
Some get frustrated and angry, and others refuse to
talk, or limit the talking they will do, especially
outside of home.
If I ignore it, will it go away?
Not so very long ago it was believed that stuttering was
"psychological". It was commonly thought that if parents
noticed that their child was stuttering and commented on
it, the stutter was there to stay.
This was called the "diagnosogenic theory" and its
powerful legacy remains. Parents are still advised, in
many instances, against dealing directly with
The diagnosogenic school said that if you drew attention
to the stutter it would not only make it worse, but also
make it "stick". Modern research demonstrates how wrong
this viewpoint is!
Pretending to ignore the stutter (supposedly, to make it
go away) or pretending that stuttering is a normal phase
in speech and language development is completely the
wrong thing to do, and may leave the child confused and
wondering why her struggle to speak fluently is an
Parents do not cause stuttering
Stuttering has a strong genetic link. Children who
stutter are very likely to have inherited their
"stuttering potential" or "stuttering predisposition"
from their mother, father, grandmother or grandfather,
with 50 to 75 per cent of people who stutter having at
least one relative who also stutters.
Treatment during childhood is preferred
Stuttering in children is more amenable to treatment
than stuttering in adults.
Early intervention is best
University studies show that early intervention, as soon
as parents are concerned about their child's fluency, is
Stuttering should not be ignored
"Ignore it and it will go away" is bad advice.
Stuttering usually starts, if it is going to, when
children are two or three years old, with four boys for
every girl affected. It might suddenly appear or it
might develop gradually over days or weeks.
It usually fluctuates, and the child has good days and
bad days (even including completely stutter-free days).
Parents often report that their child's stutter is worse
when the child is tired or out of sorts.
Stuttering has a strong tendency to "remit" - that is,
it may get better on its own. Unfortunately, we cannot
yet tell which children have stutters that will resolve
without treatment. This means that if another child in
your family grew out of stuttering, the next child in
the family to stutter may or may not follow the same
developmental pathway. There is never any guarantee that
children will grow out of it.