Today I thought I would write about something that I have had an increase in phone calls from parents about: developmental stuttering. I would say in the last two weeks I have had about 6 phone calls concerning stuttering events in preschool age children. The aim of this blog post is to provide some education regarding what developmental stuttering is and some tips for parents and teachers when encountering stuttering.
To start off, what exactly is developmental stuttering? Developmental stuttering is stuttering that typically appears between the ages of 2-5 and clears up by the time the child has reached Kindergarten. This time during childhood development coincides with an increase in the child’s expressive language skills. We typically expect a 2-year-old to have a minimum of 50 words and by the age of 6, about 2,600 with a receptive vocabulary of around 25,000 words. Needless to say, that is a lot of language growth in a relatively short amount of time and as a result, things can get bumpy (horrible pun intended!) The general thought behind developmental stuttering is that the child’s increase in expressive language skills results in their mind working faster than what they can motorically keep up with. As a result, stuttering occurs. One of the first questions that I ask parents is if there is a family history of stuttering. If there is, I do recommend starting therapy. If there is not, the child is in this age range, it hasn’t been perseverating for 6 or more months, I recommend the parent and I stay in contact. I also tell parents that it is typical to see an increase in stuttering behavior around big life changes. For example, this can be the birth of a sibling, starting school, transitioning to a big kid bed, or sadly, the death of a grandparent. Now, it is important to note that some children who begin stuttering during this time frame will not outgrow it and it is important to contact a speech pathologist to discuss what you are seeing with your child and your family history.
Lastly, one of the big issues that I have come across is that both parents and teachers often do not know what to do, especially if starting therapy isn’t warranted. This is especially the case for many preschool teachers who may have never had a child who stutters in their classroom. As a result, I provide these tips to parents and teachers found on The Stuttering Foundations website (they are phenomenal resource and I recommend anybody and everybody check them out!):
1. Don’t tell the student to “slow down” or “just relax.”
While this is said with well-meaning intent, it sadly doesn’t help. Instead, reduce the pace at which you speak. For some children, a more relaxed environment in general is helpful.
2. Don’t complete the words for the student.
They know what they want to say. How frustrated would you be if someone was always trying to talk for you?
3. Help everyone in the classroom/household learn to take turns and listen.
Everyone benefits when they aren’t being interrupted or fighting to be heard.
4. Expect the same amount of work/behavior from a child who stutters versus those who do not.
Stuttering has nothing to do with intelligence and ability.
5. Convey that you are listening to the content of the message and not how it is being said.
Remember that what they are saying is what is important, not how they are saying it.
6. Don’t make stuttering something to be ashamed of.
It is okay to talk about stuttering. While we may refer to it as “bumpy speech” because that is a more child friendly term, talk about stuttering how you would talk about any other matter that may bother or upset your child.
And remember, if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact a speech pathologist. We love to talk and are always happy to answer any questions parents or teachers may have!