The Stuttering Problem
Recent data shows that stuttering affects more than 3 million people in the United States and more than 70 million people worldwide. Stuttering is sometimes referred to as fluency disorder or stammering. Research shows that approximately 5–10% of all children will stutter at some point in their lives. However, most of these children will typically outgrow their stutter within a few years, or perhaps even in a few months.
What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech problem that occurs when a person’s normal speech flow is disrupted. The stuttering child will repeat or prolong sounds, syllables, or words. Stuttering can wreak havoc on a young child’s world, making it challenging to communicate with others.
With the advent of online speech teletherapy, now a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can diagnose stuttering online through a comprehensive evaluation of a child’s speech and language abilities. While there is no cure for stuttering, early treatment can prevent stuttering from being a problem in adulthood.
When is Stuttering a Problem?
Research shows that for about three-quarters of preschool-age children who stuttered, the stuttering went away without any treatment. However, if a parent notices that a child’s stuttering continues longer than three to six months, or if the stuttering begins after age 3½, that may warrant an online speech therapy evaluation.
Another concern that parents should be aware of is that, if the child demonstrates tension or seems to have a negative attitude regarding speaking, this could be a red flag. Self-consciousness may cause the child to react to the stuttering by purposefully blinking her eyes or nodding her head to avoid talking.
Quick Tips for Reducing Stuttering
While there is no instant cure for stuttering, it has been shown that early intervention can be very helpful in helping children to overcome their stutter. At the same time, increased stress, fatigue, or pressure will often exacerbate the problem. Through carefully managing these, the flow of speech can be improved, and the stuttering mitigated. The following tips may be useful:
- Encourage the child to speak in a slow and relaxed manner. This is because speaking slowly and deliberately can reduce stress and the symptoms of a stutter. Closely related to this is to read slowly as well, whenever possible. It can also be helpful to add a brief pause between phrases and sentences to help slow down their speech.
- Try to avoid using specific words that are more susceptible to stuttering. It would be helpful to create a list of these words and explore alternatives to use instead.
- Practicing mindfulness has been demonstrated as a way to reduce anxiety and stress. Research suggests that there is a connection between the impact of mindfulness and acquiring the tools necessary for managing stuttering.
Although treating stuttering while a child is still young probably won’t eliminate the stutter, it is highly effective, nonetheless. Online speech therapy has shown to be a successful method to improve a child’s speech fluency. It builds the child’s confidence, assists in being a full participant in school, as well as being more socially successful. A speech therapist can help children:
- monitor their rate of speech
- notice when they stutter
- manage situations in which stuttering gets worse
- work on a fluid speech pattern
Other long-term solutions that have proven to be useful, as well:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps people change their thinking and alter their behavior accordingly. With regards to stuttering, CBT can help effect positive changes in thoughts and attitudes related to stuttering and thereby reduce stuttering-related anxiety. CBT for a stuttering child may involve:
- teaching the child about stuttering
- helping the child problem-solve
- teaching relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing to promote calm
- helping the child to reduce or eliminate unhelpful thoughts
Parents and caregivers must support a child who stutters. Support allows the child the time and space to speak without pressure. This can be done by:
- using appropriate eye contact and listening attentively
- resisting the temptation to complete words or phrases for a child
- refraining from correcting, criticizing or interrupting the child
- drawing focus away from the stutter by avoiding phrases such as “slow down” or “take your time.”
- speaking to the child slowly and deliberately as this provides the opportunity to mirror such speech
- reducing stress in the home and thereby eliminating a stuttering trigger
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.