When a child starts repeating words and sounds, taking forever to get a sentence out, it can be alarming to parents. They may wonder if this issue will go away or
will continue to get worse. And what should they do about the problem?
Many children go through normal periods of disfluency around ages 2-4. This usually occurs during periods of rapid vocabulary acquisition. Children typically repeat words and syllables, especially when excited or talking rapidly. In some children, this normal developmental disfluency develops into true stuttering, which can be a lifelong struggle. The trick for speech pathologists is to identify which children would benefit from therapy in order to “cure” or minimize the problem early. Almost all stutterers begin stuttering before the age of five and it is very important to begin therapy early to remediate the problem.
We are all disfluent at times. We may repeat words, say, “uh” when trying to gather our thoughts, or we may prolong a sound while beginning a word. These
disfluencies can be more prevalent in preschoolers. Some examples of normal disfluencies are:
- Repeating whole words
- Repeating syllables
Prolonging the first sound of a word.
If these speech behaviors are not excessive and do not last for more than a few months, there is probably not much cause for concern. If they are long-lasting or
interfere significantly with communication or are causing the child frustration, however, a speech evaluation would be advisable. Some examples of abnormal disfluencies are:
- Use of the schwa vowel in repetitions (bu-bu-bu bat instead of ba-ba-ba-bat)
- Tension in the body or around the mouth.
- Getting “stuck” on words, blocking.
Frustration with or avoidance of speech
If you see any of these speech behaviors, it is much less likely that your child will outgrow his disfluencies without speech therapy.
What Can I Do?
Whether your child is actually stuttering, may be beginning to stutter, or is experiencing normal disfluencies, there are some things that you can do to
- Avoid showing and frustration or impatience with your child’s speech.
- Try to minimize stressful speaking situations for your child.
- Do not react negatively to your child’s speech or label it as “stuttering.”
- Don’t tell your child to “slow down.” Instead, model relaxed, slower speech yourself. Speak slowly, especially easing slowly into the first word of a sentence.
If you have concerns, please consult a speech pathologist who can ease your mind, give you suggestions, or suggest speech therapy if needed.
A wonderful source of information about stuttering is the Stuttering Foundation of America. This non-profit organization produces free and inexpensive resources for speech-pathologists, parents, and children for the prevention and improved treatment of stuttering. I highly recommend this resource.