Stuttering is a mysterious condition affecting approximately 1% of the world’s population. It is much more likely to occur in boys than in girls (4:1 ratio of boys/girls), and typically shows up for the first time between 2-5 years old. No one know exactly what causes it, and there is no cure.

“Stuttering” refers to the jerky, bumpy speech of someone who stutters. It is the disruption of the forward flow of speech. People who stutter may repeat phrases, single words, or parts of words. They may also elongate a particular sound, or may “block” and not be able to get out any sound at all.

Due to it’s mysterious nature, and the small number of people who stutter, there are many misconceptions about stuttering. Here are a few of the main myths, along with some facts to correct them.

Knowledge is power!

STUTTERING MYTHS:

  • My child “caught” stuttering by copying another child.
    Fact: stuttering is a permanent condition. It is influenced by slight neurological differences, genetics, and environmental triggers. It is NOT a disease. It is impossible to “catch” it from listening to someone else stutter. This misconception may come from the fact that stuttering often runs in families (it’s partially genetic!), so it can seem like a child is “copying” their siblings or cousins as they learn to talk.
  • I did something to cause my child to stutter.
    Fact: Stuttering is NOT caused by any of the following: bad parenting, hearing another person stutter, being forced to use your right hand if you are left-handed, having a “nervous temperament,” tickling, having teeth pulled, or any other external factor. It can be “triggered” by external situations, but it is CAUSED by a combination of neurological and genetic factors. No guilt allowed. 🙂
  • Stuttering is a bad habit. We need to train it out.
    Fact: stuttering is an involuntary process. It is not the same as a habit. It is not “learned”, so it is not possible to “un-learn” it either.
  • My child is choosing to stutter.
    Fact: stuttering is not a voluntary thing. It is something that happens TO a child, not something that they chose.
  • Telling my child to “take a deep breath” or “slow down and think about what you want to say” will help.
    Fact: Stuttering is different than other kinds of normal bumpy speech. A child who doesn’t stutter may need to stop and think about what they want to say in order to get it “un-jumbled.” However, this is NOT the problem for a student who stutters! They typically KNOW what they want to say, but they just can’t get it out!
  • Stuttering is a psychological problem.
    Fact: stuttering is caused by neurological differences, genetics, and environmental triggers. It is NOT an emotional/psychological issue. It can be triggered by strong emotions (excitement, anger, sadness, anxiety), which means that it is more likely to happen at times when a child is feeling very emotional. Stuttering is also highly unpredictable, which can make it appear random. The underlying condition is ALWAYS there, but it is only obvious when the stuttering is triggered and the person is having trouble speaking.
  • Stuttering can be cured.
    Fact: stuttering is a permanent condition. It is not possible to cure stuttering. There are many ways to manage stuttering and make it easier to speak, and sometimes a person who stutters can get very very good at using these strategies and appear completely fluent. However, the underlying condition (including differences in brain processing) is permanent.

HOW TO HELP A CHILD WHO STUTTERS

There are TONS of helpful things a listener can do to help a child who stutters to communicate. Here are a few of them (adapted from the UNL Fluency Center):

  1. Listen attentively when the child has something to say.
    Remember: WHAT your child has to say is more important than HOW they say it. Be patient! Give your child as much time as they need to say their thoughts.
  2. Avoid competition to speak among family members or classmates.
    Pressure to speak fast in order to be heard can trigger stuttering. Encourage everyone to speak one at a time (no interrupting!) and listen until the other person is done speaking.
  3. Model a slow, easy, relaxed speaking style.
    Instead of telling your child to slow down, YOU do it instead! Add extra pauses in between your sentences. Slow down your rate. There is no rush!
  4. Remember that stuttering can be triggered by fatigue, strong emotions, talking to strangers, stress, or anxiety.
    These factors do not cause stuttering, but they can trigger it to happen. Do not be surprised or alarmed when stuttering occurs. Simply continue listening to your child until they finish.
  5. Acknowledge that talking is hard sometimes.
    It is OKAY to stutter. It is also OKAY to let your child know that you notice. Reassure your child that you enjoy talking with them, and that you appreciate hearing their ideas. Praise them for persisting in sharing their thoughts, even when it is hard to talk.

If you worry that your child might stutter, contact your school speech therapist for a consultation. Even though there is no cure, there are still MANY things that can help, and speech therapy can be a big part of that!

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