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What to Do if Your Child Stutters

Stutters or Stuttering, also known as stammering, is a speech disorder most commonly affecting children between the ages of 2 and 5, though it appears in people of all ages. There are many forms of stuttering, which itself is only one of a variety of similar speech disorders. It usually involves the involuntary repetition of syllables, the prolonging of words, or mid-word interruptions. The speech difficulties are often accompanied by additional tics such as rapid blinking, lip tremors, and muscular tension in the face, jaw, or upper body. The problems often worsen when the stutterer is excited or under stress.

The causes of stuttering are difficult to pinpoint, but it is believed that there are a few factors involved, including:

  • Genes. Stuttering tends to run in the family.
  • Delayed development. Many children who stutter simply have not fully developed their language capabilities. This issue usually goes away with time.
  • Neurological difficulties. Many people who stutter have problems in the way the speech portion of the brain interacts with the language portion. In children, this problem usually goes away. It also appears in adults who have brain abnormalities or damage, in which cases it is more difficult to improve.

The signs of stuttering typically appear in the child’s second year of life, not long after he or she has begun speaking. Until the child reaches school age, stuttering is nothing to worry about. It may be a normal aspect of your child’s language development, so give it time. However, if your child is approaching school age and the stuttering persists, then it might be time to consider speech therapy.

Many public schools have speech therapists on staff, but this is by no means always the case. If your child has not reached school age or the school cannot do anything to help, get in touch with a speech therapist yourself. You should be able to get a referral through your family doctor.

If you are not sure whether your child’s stuttering is severe, here are some signs that your child may need help:

  • You often have difficulty understanding what he or she is saying.
  • The stuttering worsens any time after the age of 3.
  • Your child’s stuttering has led to social difficulties.
  • The stuttering causes your child to avoid using certain words.

In the meantime, you can help your child’s language development by encouraging him or her to speak often in spite of the difficulty. Try not to put too much emphasis on correct speech for now. Instead, make speech a fun thing, and try to have patience when your child has difficulty getting words out. Do not use harsh commands like, “Slow down,” or “Spit it out,” and avoid finishing his or her sentences.

It is also a good idea to model clear speech yourself. Make an effort to speak slowly and deliberately, and emphasize patience and eye contact in your listening. This way, your child will not feel pressure to get the words out as quickly as possible. Finally, the importance of practicing cannot be emphasized enough. Make an effort to have family dinners every day where you engage in conversation without television or any other distractions. And at other times, talk with your child in a light and pressure-free way as often as you can.

By Jamell Andrews

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