Does My Preschooler Stutter?
By Hallie Bulkin
Since the beginning of this year I have screened a number of children whose primary speech-language concern was stuttering. The frequency has increased and led to many conversations with parents and teachers. I chose to focus on this topic this month to help educate you as a parent on the topic of stuttering and when to be concerned.
More often than not, preschoolers go through growth spurts that lead to disfluencies in their speech. In most cases the stuttering is not true stuttering, rather the child presents with disfluencies secondary to language growth. So as a parent, how can you tell if your child is stuttering secondary to language growth versus developing a true stutter? Let’s look at some key differences.
Disfluencies Secondary to Language Growth
All children present with “normal” disfluencies in their speech. “Normal” disfluencies may appear in the form of a filler (e.g., “uh”, “um”), repetition of the first word or first syllable of a word (e.g., “I-I-I want more goldfish” or “get-get-get-getting my coat”) and are commonly more frequent when anxious, tired or stressed. Keep in mind, many preschoolers go through language spurts during the preschool years and this is why you will see “normal” disfluencies in their speech. The difference is these occur less frequently and the speech does not appear effortful as compared to speech of a child with a true stutter.
A True Stutter
The difference between “normal” disfluencies and a child who is truly stuttering can be seen in the type, frequency and the impact of the disfluencies on the child. Here is what you may observe in a child who is truly stuttering:
- Blocking: the child opens their mouth and nothing comes out as if they ran out of air and/or the speech appears completely stopped
- Part or whole-word repetitions (e.g., “ba-ba-ba-ba-back pack” or “back-back-back pack”) that occur frequently
- Phrase repetition (e.g., “where is- where is- where is my mom?”)
- Sound prolongations (e.g., “s-s-s-s-sing it!”)
- High frequency of fillers (e.g., “uh”, “um”, “like”, “you know”)
- Secondary behaviors: a true struggle to push out a word (e.g., eye blink, tension in the child’s jaw or elsewhere on their body, stating “I can’t talk”)
This list is not exhaustive but if your child appears to be doing 2 or more of the bullet points listed above, it may be a good idea to get your child screened by a licensed Speech-Language pathologist.
Should I Have My Child Screened?
Ask yourself two questions:
“Does my child have an apparent struggle when trying to speak?”
“Does my child appear to be bothered by their struggle and/or disfluencies?”
If you answered “yes” to either of these questions it would be a good idea to have your child screened and/or evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. There are at least two ways you can go about this:
- Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a private speech-language pathologist
- Contact your local school system and ask for a (free) speech-language screening/evaluation
What Can I Do To Help My Child?
In the meantime, there are things you can do at home to help your child.
- DO NOT ask your child to slow down, take a deep breath, count to 10 or make any changes to how they are speaking!!!! (I CANNOT stress this one enough!)
- You can model slower speech if you are someone who speaks quickly but this is JUST modeling (with no expectation of your child to imitate your speech pace).
- Make eye contact with your child when they speak & be patient!
- Wait for your child to complete their thought without guessing what they are trying to say.
- Control your emotions – if you get frustrated with how long it takes your child to get the speech out, it may make your child upset. Smile so they know you love and accept them.
- Set your child up for success: your child will have good and bad days/weeks. On the good ones – provide opportunities to talk. On the bad ones – limit the activities that require your child to talk.
For more help on what you as a parent can do to help your child, please limit your urge to google it (there are too many unreliable sites on this topic) and simply visit http://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/parents-pre-schoolers for reliable information and suggestions.
Hallie Bulkin, MA CCC-SLP
Note: This post was first published on DCLadies.com on March 25, 2014.