Should I worry about my child’s stuttering?
We both remember the days when our daughters were so excited and had so much to say all at once that their mouths couldn’t keep up with the thoughts soaring through their little minds. We recall how they would get stuck on words or phrases such as, “and then, and then, and then.”
And then, the Mom in us would wonder, “Is she stuttering?” The speech pathologists in us, however, knew that our children were just excited, and these episodes were a normal part of our kids’ development.
Toddlers, children and even adults occasionally experience normal periods of non-fluent speech when they are talking; we call this disfluency. Normal disfluencies include: repeating sounds, repeating one syllable words, repeating phrases, and changing words or phrases multiple times. Repeating sounds, syllables and words less than four times is considered normal.
Normal disfluencies may also include pauses and filler words while talking, such as “um.” Disfluencies typically occur when a child is learning to use language and is struggling to find the words he or she wants to use. They may disappear for several weeks and then return. These instances of disfluency are nothing to worry about, and will most likely resolve without therapy intervention.
We all stutter once in a while when we are talking- especially when we have to talk in front of group of listeners. However, only around five percent of children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or longer. Three-quarters of these children will recover by late childhood, leaving about one percent with a long-term problem, or dysfluency disorder.
Children and adults who demonstrate mild to severe stuttering will show different characteristics. Signs of a dysfluency disorder include:
- The presence of anxiety during whole word repetitions.
- Muscular tension and struggle in the facial and neck muscles, especially around the mouth.
- Syllable repetitions, like “buh, buh, buh, buh nana”
- Neutral vowel repetition, like “eh, eh, eh, eh”
- Sound repetitions, like “m m m m m momma”
- Prolongations (usually with a rise in intonation), like “mmmmmmm momma”
- A complete stop of airflow or “blocking” while stuttering.
- More consistent and frequent episodes of stuttering.
It is also important to consider the risk factors that may indicate a need to follow-up with a speech-language pathologist which include:
- Family history of stuttering
- Onset of stuttering after 3 ½ years of age
- Stuttering for 6-12 months or longer
- Other speech-language concerns including difficulties with articulation of speech, following directives or producing sentences
- A negative impact on the child’s life i.e. reverting to pointing and gesturing, rather than talking due to a reluctance to talk