By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
You’ve noticed that your child “gets stuck” when trying to express a thought. Should you worry about this speech problem, or is it something that will pass?
Many kids outgrow stuttering in six to 12 months. Others carry it into their teen years and then stop. But depending on family history and other factors, stammering can sometimes last through adulthood.
Stuttering usually starts between the ages of 2 and 10 and is four times more frequent in boys than in girls.
Many children who stutter stumble on words starting with the letters b, d, k, p, or t. They may get stuck on these words and have trouble continuing. They often say the first letter or syllable over and over. They may also take long pauses or make prolonged sounds mid-word.
Some behaviors that may accompany severe stuttering include:
- Involuntary head movements
- Thrusting of head or arms
Stuttering often disappears when a child becomes upset or angry, or when he or she is alone. It also tends to disappear when a child is reading or singing. When children feel rushed, anxious or pressured, though, stuttering may become worse.
Emotional effects of stuttering
Many children who stutter feel embarrassed and ashamed. They may be ridiculed by other children and feel humiliated – especially if involuntary body movements accompany the stutter. Stuttering can also affect a child’s self-esteem, confidence and performance in school. Often, the child will withdraw and speak less frequently.
When to seek help
Most cases of stuttering in children are resolved before adulthood. Only 1 percent of adults stutter. If your child has a severe stuttering problem that lasts more than six months, speech therapy can often help. Treatment is especially important if there is a family history of stuttering. There is no cure for it, but mild cases can usually be managed effectively if you seek treatment before your child reaches 4 years of age.
Speech therapy and training can often prevent or stop mild stuttering. Most children respond well to this type of therapy.
For more severe stuttering, in-the-ear devices can help. Some give auditory feedback. As the child speaks, she hears her own voice – slightly delayed. The child can then slow down and correct the distorted speech she is hearing through the device. Some devices include a “choral effect” that alters the child’s voice to make it sound like she is speaking in a group. This helps because most children who stutter don’t do so when speaking in unison with others.
The use of rhythm can also help a child who stutters. He may be able to speak more fluently while singing, speaking in a sing-song voice, talking in a monotone, shouting or speaking with a foreign accident.
Many insurance companies do not cover speech therapy. Check with your carrier if this is a concern for you. Also, some early intervention programs run by state departments of education offer diagnosis and treatment of many speech problems. Contact your local school district to see if your child is eligible.
How parents can help
Keeping things relaxed at home can go a long way toward eliminating mild stuttering. Parents can help by:
- Encouraging slow speech
- Not rushing the child to complete a thought
- Gently acknowledging stuttering and praising fluent speech
- Not interrupting
- Not speaking quickly themselves, but expressing themselves in a slow, relaxed manner instead
If you notice even mild stuttering that persists, talk to your child’s pediatrician. He or she may want to refer your child for speech therapy so that the problem doesn’t get any worse.
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