Q: My son is 4 years old and seems to stammer and stutter. I am not sure if he is just excited/anxious or if there is a more serious issue going on. Should I be concerned if my child is stuttering? At what point should I seek help? ~ Stephanie, Phoenix
A: As children learn language between the ages of two and five, they may experience periods of normal disfluency, such as repeating whole words or syllables (“Can…can…can I go?”) or inserting fillers (“um”) while speaking. Disfluencies will typically resolve on their own over time as children learn new ways of using language.
Here are some things you can do to help a child who is experiencing disfluencies:
- Use a slow and relaxed speaking rate when talking to your child.
- Give your child time to speak and offer your undivided attention.
- Reassure your child that you are listening by showing acceptance with your body posture and facial expressions.
- Ask fewer questions and place less demand on your child by not insisting that he or she speak when uncomfortable doing so.
- Focus on giving your child time to talk without interrupting.
- If your child becomes upset or frustrated with his or her speech, say that it’s okay to have trouble talking sometimes.
- Speak in an unhurried manner and pause often when you are responding to your child’s questions.
- Focus on all the wonderful things your child does that are unrelated to speaking.
There are some factors that may indicate whether a preschooler’s disfluencies will resolve naturally or could persist into later childhood and adulthood. These factors may warrant assessment of your child’s speech by a licensed speech-language pathologist, and may include:
- Family member who does or did stutter
- Sudden versus gradual onset of the stuttering behaviors
- Disfluencies that persist longer than six months or get progressively worse over time
Consult a professional if you have questions about your child’s fluency or if it seems that your child is avoiding talking, struggling to speak, or making sounds that are “stuck,” difficult to get out, or prolonged (“ssssssssorry”). A speech-language pathologist can conduct an assessment to identify whether your child is experiencing typical disfluencies or true stuttering, determine whether or not treatment is needed, and offer additional information or resources. Parents can also find more information by visiting stutteringhelp.org.
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for any questions regarding any possible medical condition.
Jennifer Buckler M.S., CCC-SLP, is a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Speech-Language Pathology Program at the Midwestern University College of Health Sciences. The Speech-Language Institute at the Midwestern University Multispecialty Clinic in Glendale utilizes the latest technology to evaluate and treat a wide range of speech, language, and swallowing disorders for both children and adults, at affordable prices. Call 623-537-6000 or visit www.mwuclinics.com/az/mc.