But with early treatment, understanding, and sometimes just time, most kids recover.
When children are learning how to string words into sentences, it’s very normal for them to struggle with finding the right words. That’s why it’s so hard for parents to spot a problem.
Here are some ways to tell the difference between normal language development and stuttering:
How Do I Know It’s Stuttering?
Stuttering is marked by repetitions of sounds, syllables, or words and with speech blocks or prolonged interruptions between sounds and words. Secondary physical behaviors, such as eye blinking, jaw jerking and head movements may be present.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Can I, can I, can I, have some juice?”
This kind of repetitive behaviour is not stuttering. It is part of normal development.
“Mmmmommy, mmmmommy can I have some juice?”
The pattern has changed from an easy, effortless, repetitive kind of pattern to one that is effortful. The child is struggling to get the words out instead of just repeating words.
Could It Be Something Else?
Before making a diagnosis, speech pathologists will look to the home environment because certain factors can cause a child to have stuttering-like symptoms. With some changes at home, the symptoms could disappear. Some of these factors are:
- Fatigue. Is the child sleeping enough?
- Competition. Is there competition for talking time in the family? If a child who is developing his speech has to compete with older, talkative siblings, they can appear to stutter.
- Time. Are the parents speaking quickly and rushing the child to talk? If they feel rushed, kids can stumble over their words.
Impact on School
"The child who stutters is often reluctant to participate fully in class, is hesitant to ask for help and often is misinterpreted by teachers as not knowing the academic material," says Dr. Robert Kroll, Director of the stuttering program at The Speech and Stuttering Institute in Toronto. "Moreover, studies have shown that these children are more at risk for academic, social and emotional problems as they progress through school."
What Do I Do If I Think It's Stuttering?
If your child is showing early signs of stuttering, the good news is that 80 percent of kids will eventually stop stuttering within four years, either through therapy or by naturally growing out of it. To help your child, the best place to start is your province’s preschool speech and language program. Many are fully funded up to age 5. It’s never too early to make that phone call. And it's never too late to get help either.
What Causes Stuttering?
The cause of stuttering is still unclear but research is helping to clear up some popular myths.
For instance, for years people have thought that stuttering is the result of a psychological problem. Not true.
“There’s certainly a psychological component to the stuttering,” says Kroll. “When something is wrong with you and makes you different, there’s going to be a psychology attached to that. But the whole psychology about stuttering arises as a result of the stuttering."
In fact, brain scans reveal key differences in the brains of people who stutter. “Not only our research, but other studies from other teams, has pointed to significant differences in the brain processing and in neuroprocessing between those who stutter and those who don’t,” Kroll says. “People who stutter process speech differently.”
Can stuttering be cured?
Stuttering can not be cured in the way that an illness can be cured. But with therapy symptoms can diminish or even stop.
Young children can learn their way out of stuttering. This requires dedicated work on the part of the parents as well as the speech pathologist. Older children and adults can participate in intensive behavioural training that can reduce their stuttering.