When you first notice your child stuttering, it can be very worrisome. Will he grow out of it? Should I take him for a speech-language evaluation? Why is it happening? First, let’s look at what is typical versus atypical stuttering in young children.
- During language development, young children occasionally repeat syllables or words one to two times. For example, “I, I want to play.”
- Children may hesitate when speaking and use fillers such as “um”, “er”, “uh”.
- Disfluencies come and go. Your child may stutter for a week and then it goes away completely. This is an indication that your child is learning to use language in different ways.
- Syllables, words, or sounds are repeated more than once or twice. For example, “I, I, I, I want to play” or “I w-w-w-want to play”.
- Your child starts their utterances with fillers (“uh”, “um”, “er”) versus using them withing her sentence. For example, “Um, um, uh, I want to play.”
- You may notice tension in your child’s facial muscles and/or neck.
- Your child may experience a “block” – this is when your child attempts to say something, though there is no airflow or voice for a few seconds.
- Disfluencies may continue to come and go; however they are more present than absent.
Whether you feel your child’s stuttering is typical or atypical, there are several strategies that you can use at home to promote fluent speech:
1. Model, reinforce, and praise healthy conversation skills during 2-3 structured times per day. Healthy conversation skills include:
- Encouraging “thinking time” to increase time needed for language formulation
- Speaking at normal to slow normal rate to model easy, relaxed speech. Easy, relaxed speech: elongated vowels in words, smooth transitions between words, and lots of pauses between sentences.
2. Reduce the quantity of talking to ease the pace of communication and allow your child to take his time in formulating what he wants to say.
3. Try not to pressure your child with questions. Instead, comment on what he is doing.
4. During moments of disfluency:
- Continue to allow your child to finish his thought/idea
- Rephrase his thought/idea back to him using easy, relaxed speech.
5. Reinforce communication by praising your child’s attempts at communication. For example, “I like the way you told me that!”
6. Avoid commenting on “bumpy” consistency of speech disfluency. Instead, model more fluent speech and healthy ways to communicate. Reinforce what is going well.