Children learning to talk often make speech mistakes resulting in the interruption of the flow of their speech. We refer to such mistakes as “dysfluencies”.
Between the ages of 2 and 6 years of age many children go through a period in which they repeat sounds and words (e.g. “bubu”/ball, “my my my”) or revise their message (“I want to eat -uh- to go to the store”). This dysfluent speech pattern is not usually labelled as stuttering but rather just a stage which may vary in duration from several weeks to several months.
What differentiates normal breakdown in fluency from stuttering will vary from individual to individual. It is often associated with the frequency of the dysfluent speech, the type and quality of the dysfluencies, and the existence of secondary behaviours (e.g. eye fluttering, pitch changes, struggle).
There is no conclusive evidence supporting a single cause of stuttering. Normal dysfluencies are often attributed to excitement, anxiety or fatigue and occur on the first word of a sentence. Atypical dysfluencies are often associated with a specific situation(s), or with certain people. Fluency disruptors may be either child related or environment related.
Suggestions for helping a child who stutters
- Attend to the child who is speaking. Keep natural eye contact when the child is talking. Maintaining the same physical level is particularly important.
- Listen to what the child is saying instead of how they’re saying it,
- Be patient. Let your child finish her/his own words or thoughts; don’t rush the child by interrupting or finishing words for her/him.
- Remain calm and attentive if your child is stuttering. Be conscious not to change your posture, or to grimace in any way.
- Pause before you answer your child. This allows her/him the opportunity to initiate continued speech if desired.
- Talk slowly, thus modeling an easy pace.
- Follow the lead of your child. Impose fewer verbal demands by commenting more and questioning less.
- Refrain from making remarks like: “Slow down”, “Take a breath”, or “Relax”. Such simplistic advice can be felt as demeaning and is not helpful. It may also increase self awareness unnecessarily.
Suggestions for teachers for helping children who stutter
- Use a relaxed voice and a slow, easy rate.
- Ensure that your students use good manners. Ask them not to interrupt, monopolize conversations, finish words or thought of others, or make fun of other students’ answers.
- Assure the whole class that a) they will have as much time as they need to answer the questions, and b) you are interested in having them take time to think through their answers, not just answer quickly.
- Students like routine. Whenever possible, keep to the schedule so they know what to expect.
- If other students tease the student who stutters, remind them that everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses- whether it be reading, playing basketball or talking.
- Emphasize the positive. Praise the students for things done well.