When Do Children Who Stutter Need Help?

Does your child repeat words and phrases over and over?  This doesn’t necessarily mean he has a stutter.

Learning to speak is a remarkable feat. Even more remarkable is that it’s accomplished within the first few years of life. But as with mastering any new task, speech can have its stumbling blocks. Normal non-fluency is one of them. While to the untrained ear it sounds a lot like stuttering, it is really very different. Speech & language pathologist Donna Seedorf-Harmouth explains that normal non-fluency occurs when children “are trying to express so many ideas about all of the things they’re learning.”

Sometimes their muscles aren’t coordinated to say words as quickly as their mind is thinking them, and when this happens it’s called normal non-fluency, which means, for example that “they may trip up on little words in their sentences, or they just get words stuck on the tip of their tongue and they aren’t able to get them out as quickly as they’d like.”

Although children outgrow normal non-fluency, Donna says parents still need to be patient when it happens. “When you hear normal non-fluency in a child, it’s important to maintain eye contact so that you can tell your child with your body language that you’re still interested in what he’s saying and that you’ll wait as long as it takes for him to express his ideas to you. With that you are giving him is the gift of all of your attention so that he knows you value his ideas that they have to share with you.”

As for stuttering, it may be suspected “when we see the child beginning to struggle with speech, break his words up, fragment his speech”, says Dr. Bob Kroll, a language fluency expert. Kroll says there’s a distinct difference between the child going through a phase of normal non-fluency and the child who stutters. “Instead of hearing the repetitive “mommy, mommy, mommy” we might hear things like “m-m-mommy, m-m-mommy, c-c-can I have some juice”. That would indicate much more of a struggle and tension with the speech process.”

If you suspect that your child may be a stutterer, check with your child’s doctor so that a referral to a speech and language pathologist can be made. Kroll explains that a speech pathologist “would look to see how chronic that problem is, whether it’s just an episode or occurring on a daily basis. The more chronic it is the more concerned we become, and the more likely we are to label it as stuttering.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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