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Stammering

Learning to talk, like learning to walk, is a skill that develops gradually. Many young children will often stop, start again and stumble over words while they’re learning. It’s typical for a child between the ages of two and five to repeat words and phrases and to hesitate with ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ when sorting out what to say next.

Speech is a very complex  process involving many different skills. These start with having an idea and deciding what to say, then finding the right words to use, building them into a sentence and co-ordinating the muscles to make the sounds.

Different parts of the brain are needed for speech and there are subtle differences in the development of connections between these areas in young people who stammer. Young people who stammer have a speech system that needs more time to reach that end result. Speech and language therapy activities can help by strengthening the pathways in the brain. 

The stammer may be episodic in nature and have periods when it goes away. It is not always possible to predict when the stammer will come and go.

About five in every hundred children stammer for a time while learning to talk.

  • Your child may repeat parts of words several times, e.g. “mu-mu-mumummy”
  • They may stretch out parts of words, e.g. “ssssstory”
  • Some can’t seem to get started and no sound comes out for a period of time, e.g. “.......I got a ball.”
  • Repetitions of sounds, syllables, words or phrases
  • Visible physical struggles when trying to speak, such as blinking, mouth contortions, facial tics, grimacing, body tension, foot stamping, fist clenching and shoulder raising
  • Unusual breathing patterns, struggling for breath or sounding ‘out of breath’
  • Avoiding some words, which might make some young people unable to use specific curriculum vocabulary

 

The young person may avoid some situations, such as answering questions or certain activities involving talking in front of others. They may be left out of social groups or have difficulty making friends. They might even be subjected to teasing or bullying. The young person might appear quiet, shy, aloof, or as though they do not have much to say. This might reflect hidden feelings such as guilt, shame, fear, panic, poor self-image/self-esteem or anxiety

  • Show you’re interested in what your child says, not how they say it – look at them when they’re talking so they know you’re listening
  • Give your child time to speak without competition and interruptions from other people
  • Slow down your own rate of talking – this will not only help them feel less rushed, it’s more helpful than telling them to slow down, start again or take a deep breath
  • Use language your child can easily understand
  • Give your child periods of time alone with you in a calm, relaxed atmosphere without other children
  • Reduce the number of direct questions you ask your child
  • Pause for a second before you respond to their question – this less hurried way of talking reduces the pressure on your child to reply quickly
  • Let them use non-verbal responses, such as writing, nodding or gesturing
  • If your child is experiencing great difficulty with non-fluency or stammering, reduce the demands of talking and use other ways of communicating, such as drawing or gestures
  • Talk about their stammer if they want to
  • Resist the urge to finish their sentence for them as this can hurt their self-esteem and frustrate them
  • Ask them what they would find helpful in the school environment
  • Agree strategies which could be used with teachers so they don’t feel pressured
  • Talk to friends, peers and teaching staff about your stammer if you feel comfortable doing so
  • Slow your rate of speaking down so you are speaking more slowly
  • Use pauses to give yourself extra time
  • Try to maintain eye contact with the person you are speaking to
  • Find ways of relaxing which work for you
  • Try not to worry what others may think, or to panic about situations. If you feel more confident and relaxed, you may be less likely to stammer
  • Keep a log of times where you stammer less – what was different about those situations?
  • Think of what would help you and talk to your tutor or a teacher about your ideas. You might want to think about specific situations where you need help e.g. reading aloud in class or answering questions in class
  • Perhaps work with your parents or teachers to come up with a list of things to say if others make comments or tease you about your stammer
  • If you would like more support or help with your stammer, please speak to your parents or tutor about making a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist

While many children find it easier to talk as they get older, others will be at risk of developing a persistent stammer.

If you’ve tried the above but still have concerns about your child’s fluency, please do speak to your GP or health visitor for advice.

Early intervention by a Speech and Language Therapist can help young children with fluency difficulties such as stammering.

 

Myth 1: The causes of stammering

Myth 2: Children will grow out of it 

Myth 3: Tell a child to slow down 

Myth 4: You should ignore a child's stammer

 

Myth 5: A speech and language therapist can cure a stammer