About three million Americans have a stutter – most of them children.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, stuttering most often occurs in children between the ages of two and six as they develop their language skills.
“Stuttering is a big problem,” says Patricia Ruiz, executive director of the Miami Speech Institute, “I think our community is not educated enough that it’s actually a disorder that affects many many people in different ways.”
May is Stuttering Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to educate yourself about stuttering and learn how you can support a child who may be struggling.
Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old who stutters, has found a friend in Joe Biden, who also suffers from a stutter. “I’m just an ordinary kid,” he said, “and in a short time Joe Biden made me more confident about something that has bothered me my whole life.” The images provided are a mixed stream and are a joint effort of the pool and the DNCC.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering – also called stuttering or disfluent speech – is a disorder characterized by the repetition of sounds, syllables or words; prolongation of sounds; and speech interruptions called blocks, according to the NIDCD.
The NIDCD says that a person who stutters knows exactly what they would like to say, but has difficulty producing a normal flow of speech. These speech disturbances may be accompanied by struggle behaviors, such as rapid eye blinking or lip twitching.
How did my child develop a stutter?
“Stuttering has many different factors,” Ruiz explains, “one of them being genetics.”
Ruiz says a family history of speech and language disorders can increase a child’s chance of developing a stutter. According to the Miami Speech Institute, certain chromosomes have been identified to produce stuttering.
“I was very embarrassed,” said Holly Nover, a 40-year-old mother from Florida whose 10-year-old son, Colton, also has a speech impediment. “So I developed habits of changing my words so it wouldn’t be noticed.”
Ho Ming Chow, a speech disorders researcher at the University of Delaware, agrees that there is a “very strong genetic component” to stuttering. Although several genes may be involved and the exact genetic causes may vary from child to child, “they probably affect the brain in the same way.”
Ruiz says a child’s temperament and environment could also play a role in their speech development. She also says that children can stutter more or less depending on a person’s reaction to their stutter.
“If I start to stutter and you correct me, that already makes me feel like I’m not effective in my communication,” Ruiz says. “So I’m going to stutter more because now I’m embarrassed about what I’m going to say and how many times you’re going to correct me.”
What should I do if my child starts to stutter?
Ruiz advises against correcting, interrupting or talking for a child who stutters. Instead, she recommends simply ignoring the stuttering and allowing the child to continue talking.
“When you ignore it, it can go away,” Ruiz says. “But if you create that doubt in them, that’s when it gets bigger over time.”
The MSI also recommends speaking more slowly to your child at home and pausing after each word.
A child may already view their stutter as some kind of dysfunction, which is why MSI says parents should try not to make children feel pressured.
If you suspect your child has a stutter, MSI advises parents to first speak to a pediatrician about stuttering and request a prescription for an evaluation. Once you come in for an evaluation, MSI will run a series of tests to determine if a stutter is present.
Will my child stutter forever?
Ruiz says stuttering is something most children overcome on their own. A famous example of someone who has moved past a childhood stutter is President Joe Biden.
However, Ruiz says it’s important to understand that stuttering is “not something you cure,” but rather something that can be minimized through treatment.
About 5-10% of all children will stutter for some time in their lives, ranging from a few weeks to several years.
According to the NIDCD, boys are 2-3 times more likely to stutter than girls, and as they age, this gender difference increases. The number of boys who continue to stutter is three to four times greater than the number of girls.
According to the NIDCD, approximately 75% of children recover from stuttering. For the remaining 25% who continue to stutter, stuttering may persist as a lifelong communication disorder.
How can stuttering affect my child’s life?
The NIDCD states that the symptoms of stuttering can vary widely throughout a person’s day. For example, speaking in front of a group or talking on the phone can make a person’s stutter worse, while singing, reading, or speaking in unison can temporarily reduce the stutter.
Like many other speech disorders, stuttering can make it difficult to communicate with other people, which often affects a person’s quality of life and interpersonal relationships.
For more information or support regarding your child’s stuttering, contact the Miami Speech Institute at email@example.com or (786)-460-1595.