Does your preschooler repeat the beginning of words, such as "I... I... I... want to go outside!"? Or what about "bouncing" on certain sounds, such as "Let's get the red b-b-ball."? Have you wondered if your child is stuttering?
Between the ages of about 2 1/2 years old and 5 years old, many children go through a "developmental stuttering" phase. This common phase is thought to be triggered by the rapid growth of our vocabularies and neural networking during this time period. Around 2 1/2 - 3 years old, your child probably has around 150 words but by the time they reach 5 years old, that number could be nearing over a thousand! That's a lot to keep up with and we may experience little hiccups along the way.
The majority of children who begin stuttering during this age do "grow out" of it, however some do not and some require speech therapy to help them work through these patterns of dysfluent speech. The most important this for you to do if your child begins stuttering is to remain calm. Stuttering it not an indication of diminished intelligence or developmental problems. While the stuttering is technically considered a fluency disorder, I prefer to call it a difference. There are great day-to-day and, even moment-to-moment, fluctuations for a person's ability to fluently speak. There are several factors that can help or hinder one's fluent speech patterns as well. Some days may truly feel like a disorder where the words just will not come out right at all. Some days are fluid and easy, as if nothing is wrong at all.
I want to provide you with some tips for if your preschooler starts to stutter. These are just general tips and do not substitute a full evaluation and therapy for a fluency disorder. If you are concerned about your child's fluency, please call your local speech-language pathologist for an evaluation.
My Child is Stuttering! What do I do?
1) Get down on her level. By bringing yourself to her eye level, either by kneeling or crouching, you're letting your child know you are listening. This is a non-verbal cue that she can take her time.
2) Take a deep, slow, belly breath. Our children who stutter are often gasping for breath and breathing at inappropriate times in their sentences. He might be inhaling the air into his upper chest, and not getting a full breath in before pushing the words out. By modeling a deep, slow, belly breath, you are giving your child a cue to do the same. Avoid telling your child to "breathe" unless absolutely necessary or unless your SLP has recommended a verbal cue.
3) Avoid finishing the word or sentence. Your child will get it out, if you just take the time to listen. Do you like when other people speak for you? Please try to show your child the same respect. If you find finishing the word helps your child, try to only give the next sound. For example, if your child is stuttering on the word "fish" and is stuck on the "f", you could start saying "ffii" to help him finish the word on his own. Ask your child if they like when you help finish the words before continuing to do this.
4) Use slow, exaggerated speech. When you are playing with your child, you can extend the beginning of your words slowly while using good breathing techniques. Try not to speak in a way that is too unnatural and slow, but just gently slow your rate down to help your child do the same.
5) Keep track of it. Are you noticing patterns, such as your child is more fluent in the morning or when there are fewer distractions? Does your child seem to use phrases that help get the words out, like "Let me see..." or "Well, I think..."? Also, keep note on how long your child has been stuttering for. If your child stutters for more than 4-6 months, it would be helpful to consult with a speech-language pathologist. Also, if your child is showing any signs of frustration, refusing to talk because of fear/anxiety, or any rapid worsening of dysfluent speech, contact a speech-language pathologist.
What about "cluttering"?
Cluttering is not as common as stuttering, however it is also often misdiagnosed as a stuttering disorder. Cluttering often sounds like "rapid fire" speech with irregular breathing patterns, syllable omissions and a monotone voice. The rapid fire characteristic is often because the child feels they need to push the words out as fast as possible in order to convey their message. I have also noticed grammatical issues and word order confusion that can result during this rapid fire. Another common sign of cluttering versus stuttering are post word repetitions, such as "bike-ike-ike." If your child is demonstrating atypical dysfluent speech, contact your speech language pathologist for guidance.