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When to Worry About Stuttering in Young Children?

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First of all, all children go through a period of stuttering which is completely normal. This period lasts from age 2-5 and can vary in length.

When children stutter, you may see these common errors:

  • Repetition of certain sounds, syllables or words.
  • Prolonging sounds.
  • Stopping mid-sound – they stop talking at random moments during sentences.

Stuttering can also be referred to as dysfluency, which is basically a fancy term for a disruption in the pattern of speech.

In some cases, stuttering can progress and continue past the age of 5. When this occurs, it’s important to see a speech-pathologist for treatment. Also, if your child is making facial grimaces, or making abnormal noises, like clicking their tongues, you should seek out an SLP sooner rather than later. 

The Normal Disfluent Child

  • The normal disfluent child occasionally repeats syllables or words, li-li-like this. Disfluencies may also include hesitancies and the use of fillers such as “uh,” “er,” “um.”
  • Disfluencies occur most often between ages 1 1/2 and 5 years, and they tend to come and go. They are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the may be going through another stage of learning.

What Causes Stuttering?

Doctors and researchers are not exactly sure what causes fluency disorders in kids. I can tell you as a seasoned therapist with fluency patients, that boys typically have a higher risk of stuttering. There is also a family component. Most (more than 75%) of the children who have been diagnosed on my caseload have an immediate family member that stuttered at some point in their life. In fact, “Kids who stutter are three times more likely to have a close family member who also stutters, or did” (kidshealth.com).

What Are the Signs of Stuttering?

You may first see signs of stuttering in your child at around 18-24 months of age. At this time, their brains are expanding so rapidly that it’s hard to explain. They are playing with new vocabulary and learning how to formulate simple sentences. This may be frustrating to some members of your family, but try and be patient with your child during this critical period.

Risk Factor Chart for Stuttering

Some factors may indicate that your child is more at risk for stuttering. Knowing these factors will help you decide whether or not your child needs to see a speech therapist.

Risk FactorElevated Risk
Family history of stutteringA parent, sibling, or other family member who stutters
Age at onsetAfter age 3 1/2
Time since on setStuttering 6 – 12 months or longer
GenderMale
Other speech production concernsSpeech sound errors or trouble being understood
Language skillsAdvanced, delayed, or disordered

Children typically stutter for a few weeks or months and then stop on their own. Children who stop before the age of 5 do not need intervention.

As mentioned previously, if your child’s stuttering gets worse, changes in frequency, or body movements are accompanied with the stutter, then get help before age 3. 

When to Get Help for Stuttering?

(Information from Kids Health)

If you see any of the following signs/symptoms in your child, it’s important to talk to your child’s pediatrician and seek out a speech-language pathologist as soon as you can.

  • You child tries to avoid situations that require talking.
  • Changes a word for fear of stuttering.
  • Has facial or body movements along with the stuttering (may jerk hand, jaw locks, eyes may blink more).
  • Repeats whole words and phrases often and consistently.
  • Repeats sounds and syllables more often.
  • Has speech that sounds very strained.

Also talk to the therapist if:

  • You notice increased facial tension or tightness in your child’s speech muscles.
  • You notice vocal tension that causes rising pitch or loudness.
  • You have other concerns about your child’s speech.

What Can Parents Do to Help with Stuttering?

I always give my parents suggestions and tips to work with their child who stutters. One important thing to remember is not to tell your child to slow down. That doesn’t help and, in fact, only makes them feel more tense and self conscious. Here are some tips to deal with dysfluency until you can get in to see a therapist:

  1. Don’t interrupt your child or ask them to talk over again.
  2. Use meals as a time to communicate as a family. Eliminate TV and electronic distractions.
  3. Create a calm environment at home. Encourage everyone to slow down and relax.
  4. Talk slowly to your child. This will model correct breathing patterns and appropriate rate of speech.
  5. Maintain eye contact with your child. Looking away shows that you are uncomfortable. If you are uncomfortable, they will be, as well!
  6. Let your child speak for themselves. Give them time to get out their thoughts and feelings before responding to their communication.

In addition to these tips, download Speechblubs app and work on some of the communication activities that are highlighted!

I’d also recommend checking out the website Stuttering Help. They have a ton of information for kids of all ages, as well as parents!

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