Stuttering Is Normal, to a Point
Actor James Earl Jones did it. So did author Lewis Carroll. And today about 3 million people in the United States do it, too.
Stuttering. It frightens parents, embarrasses teenagers, and can frustrate young children who are just starting to talk.
But Lisa Scott Trautman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communicative disorders at Florida State University, says parents shouldn't worry about children who stutter when they're learning to form words. "It's common for young children to go through a period of speech disfluencies," she says.
This can range from repeating words (but-but-but) or "uh" sounds (uh-uh-uh-around) to stretching out initial sounds (MMMMMommy). Other examples include difficulty in smoothly joining words, difficulty in moving from the sound of a single letter to the rest of the letter sounds in a single word, or prolonging a single sound in a word. The Stuttering Foundation of America says that if your child speaks like this for six months or more, or shows signs of tension or frustration when talking, you should find professional help.
Parents need to trust their instincts. If you feel your child's fluency skills are delayed, then seek the advice of your pediatrician. Also, if others in your family stutter, seek an early evaluation, because research has found a strong genetic component to stuttering.
Helping your child beat stuttering while young reduces the chances of stuttering into adulthood. "The most powerful thing parents can do is establish a relaxed home environment," says fluency specialist Kristin Chmela, M.A., who owns a private consulting firm outside Chicago.
Here's what the Stuttering Foundation says parents should do to help a child who stutters:
Listen patiently to what your child says, not how it is said. Respond to the message rather than the stuttering.
Allow your child to complete thoughts without interruption, and maintain eye contact.
After your child speaks, reply slowly using some of the same words.
Decrease the number of questions you ask your child.
Wait before responding. This helps to slow things down and should help your child's speech.
Spend at least five minutes each day talking with your child in a relaxed manner.
Find ways to show your child you value and enjoy your time together. Most powerful is your continuous acceptance of your child as he or she is.