Today’s tip is brought to you by
Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center.
Stuttering can become a lifelong part of talking for some people. However, it does not have to interfere with your child’s ability to make friends, participate in the classroom, make good grades, form lasting relationships or achieve career goals.
Deciding whether to take your child to speech therapy can be a difficult decision, however, many parents are concerned that taking a child to therapy will increase his or her awareness of the stuttering and thus have a negative effect; or they are unsure about the best time to start their child in therapy, especially when they get conflicting advice about whether to “wait and see” versus take action.
Adding to the confusion, research suggests that as many as 70 percent of all children who start stuttering will outgrow it on their own with no speech therapy. But research also indicates that if a child has been stuttering longer than a year, the likelihood that he or she will outgrow it without any speech therapy is reduced.
Unfortunately, there are no firm guidelines about the best time to start therapy, although most speech-language pathologists will recommend starting therapy within six to 12 months after you have first noticed the stuttering. One thing we do know, though, is that all children can benefit from therapy, although the outcomes are different for different children.
As a result of speech therapy, some children are able to eliminate stuttering completely. Others learn strategies that help them stutter less, while yet other children learn to talk in a way that is easier and less tense, even though some stuttering is still noticeable. Most importantly, all children can learn to become more confident in their speaking skills, no matter how much stuttering they may still have.
Goals of stuttering therapy:
There are usually two main goals in stuttering therapy for this age group:
- Making talking easier.
- Developing healthier attitudes and feelings about talking.
- Making talking easier is achieved by learning speech tools. These tools help the speaker to produce speech in a different way, such as reducing the amount of tension in the speech system, beginning a sentence with more air or stuttering in an easier way.
Developing healthier attitudes and feelings about talking is achieved by learning to respond to speaking situations with less anxiety, become more confident in the ability to use speech tools and use problem-solving skills for difficult speaking situations.
Not everyone needs to change how they feel about talking. Many kids and teens are confident and willingly talk to others. For some, however, talking can produce feelings of anxiety or fear, even guilt and shame. Overcoming these negative attitudes and feelings can be just as important as learning to talk more easily.
Talking more fluently is only one part of being a good communicator. Learning to take turns, not interrupt, and using eye contact when speaking are also important communication skills. Sometimes, the harder one tries to use tools and be fluent, the more likely it is he will stutter. Again, it’s important to know that if stuttering happens, it’s OK, and you don’t have to be ashamed.
Seven Ways to Help the Child Who Stutters
Compiled by Barry Guitar, Ph.D. and Edward G. Conture, Ph.D.
- Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes speaking before you begin to speak. Your own slow, relaxed speech will be far more effective than any criticism or advice such as “slow down” or “try it again slowly.”
- Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. Children speak more freely if they are expressing their own ideas rather than answering an adult’s questions. Instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting him know you heard him.
- Use your facial expressions and other body language to convey to your child that you are listening to the content of her message and not to how she’s talking.
- Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your undivided attention to your child. During this time, let the child choose what he would like to do. Let him direct you in activities and decide himself whether to talk or not. When you talk during this special time, use slow, calm, and relaxed speech with plenty of pauses. This quiet, calm time can be a confidence-builder for younger children, letting them know that a parent enjoys their company. As the child gets older, it can be a time when the child feels comfortable talking about his feelings and experiences with a parent.
- Help all members of the family learn to take turns talking and listening. Children, especially those who stutter, find it much easier to talk when there are few interruptions and they have the listeners’ attention.
- Observe the way you interact with your child. Try to increase those times that give your child the message that you are listening to her and she has plenty of time to talk. Try to decrease criticisms, rapid speech patterns, interruptions and questions.
- Above all, convey that you accept your child as he is. The most powerful force will be your support of him, whether he stutters or not.
Myths about stuttering:
Myth: People who stutter are not smart.
Reality: There is no link whatsoever between stuttering and intelligence.
Myth: Nervousness causes stuttering.
Reality: Nervousness does not cause stuttering. Nor should we assume that people who stutter are prone to be nervous, fearful, anxious or shy. They have the same full range of personality traits as those who do not stutter.
Myth: Stuttering can be “caught” through imitation or by hearing another person stutter.
Reality: You can’t “catch” stuttering. No one knows the exact causes of stuttering, but recent research indicates that family history (genetics), neuromuscular development and the child’s environment, including family dynamics, all play a role in the onset of stuttering.
Myth: It helps to tell a person to “take a deep breath before talking,” or “think about what you want to say first.”
Reality: This advice only makes a person more self-conscious, making the stuttering worse. More helpful responses include listening patiently and modeling slow and clear speech yourself.
Myth: Stress causes stuttering.
Reality: As mentioned above, many complex factors are involved. Stress is not the cause, but it certainly can aggravate stuttering.
Call the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center at 216-231-8787 for more information about stuttering, speech therapy, or to schedule an evaluation.