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Does my child stutter?

The young child who is still struggling to master certain sounds, vocabulary, sentence arrangement and the social pressures of talking will naturally stumble over speech more often than adults or older children.

Because children with normal disfluencies show many of the same behaviors found in stuttering, it may be difficult for you to distinguish normal stumbling from stuttering.

Speech-Language Pathologists look for warning signs that show your child has moved beyond the type of speech interruptions that are normal for his or her age.

Warning Signs:
  • Multiple Repetitions: All of us, particularly children learning to talk, repeat words and phrases. Sometimes “starter” words or sounds such as a prolonged or repeated “er” or “um” are used. More importantly, parts of words, usually the first syllable, may be repeated. If your child begins to use these repetitions often with many words and in many situations, he/she may be having more than the usual difficulty with his/her speech. The use of syllabic repetitions may be a passing phase, but it is one of the first signs clinicians look for to see if a child may be stuttering.
  • Prolongations: Your child may prolong the first sound of a word, so that “Mommy” becomes “Mmmmmmmmmmmommy“.

    These first two signs may occur occasionally in nearly all children. If they begin to occur too frequently in too many speaking situations, and begin to affect your child’s ability to communicate, you should be concerned.

  • Tremors: Occasionally you may notice that the small muscles around your child’s mouth and jaw tremble or vibrate with he/she seems to get stuck on words. These tremors are associated with difficulties in moving forward with speech when his/her mouth is held in one position with no sound coming out.
  • Rise in Pitch and Loudness: As your child tries to get a word out, the pitch and loudness of the sound that he/she is prolonging may rise before the word is finished. In these cases your child is trying to get the word unstuck.
  • Struggle and Tension: Your child may struggle to get words out or have an unusual amount of tension in the lips, tongue, throat or chest when trying to say certain words. At other times there may only be a small amount of tension on the very same words. The degree of struggle may vary.
  • Moment of Fear: You may see a fleeting moment of fear in your child’s face as a word is approached. He/she has probably experienced enough difficulty getting stuck on the word to react emotionally to the struggle or anticipation of trouble. Your child may even cry. If you can help your child when the fear is still a brief passing experience, there is a good chance of preventing a vivid or lasting fear of speaking from developing.
  • Avoidance: The struggle to speak and fear experienced may soon lead your child to try a variety of avoidances. A word may be postponed. You may notice an unusual number and length of pauses. He/she may even refuse to speak at times.

The presence of these signs indicate that your child may develop a stuttering problem unless there is intervention. You may choose to observe your child a bit longer or have your child examined by a speech-language pathologist experienced in the field of stuttering.

If you choose to observe your child’s speech more closely, there are a few things to remember: As in other areas of development, speech does not progress evenly; more difficulty should be expected at some times than others. Be sure to notice the moments of fluent speech to avoid becoming anxious about the difficulty. Listen to what your child is telling you and do not try to observe him/her every time he/she opens his/her mouth. Try to judge the amount of difficultly and whether the problems are getting better or worse as a whole.

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Source: If Your Child Stutters: A Guide for Parents from the Stuttering Foundation of America
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