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Stop and Smell the Roses: Promoting Fluency in Everyday Conversations
In today’s world, we are accustomed to living a fast paced life – always on the go. We are able to order and receive an entire meal in five minutes or find an address with the quick click of a button. The need for speed can sometimes transfer to our speaking patterns. We may talk like we’ve had too many cups of coffee or expect someone to answer our questions quickly. These hurried speaking patterns can impact how a child who stutters communicates fluently.
Before we implement strategies, it is important to define and understand: What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a communication disorder, which affects the smoothness of speech. There may also be secondary behaviours, such as unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak. Stuttering often begins in childhood and may continue throughout adulthood. Stuttering is also known as a fluency disorder characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.” People often produce brief disfluencies from time to time. For example, some words are repeated and others may consist of “um” or “uh.” A person who has a fluency disorder produces abnormal fluency breaks called, “dysfluencies.”
Onset and Prevalence of Stuttering
Stuttering may appear between the ages of 2½ and 4 years. Stuttering is more common among males than females. It is estimated that boys are three to four times more likely to stutter than girls. About 2.4% of preschoolers stutter and 1% of school age kids stutter. Approximately 75% of preschoolers who begin to stutter will not develop a fluency disorder into adulthood. However, we are unable to determine or predict which children will or will not stop stuttering. The best prevention is early intervention. A child’s stuttering severity can vary among environments and different communication partners (e.g., school vs. home, strangers vs. parents).
Characteristics of Stuttering
There are different classifications of stuttering including:
- Prolongations of speech sounds (e.g., mmmmmmilk)
- Repetition of sounds (e.g., w-w-w-want)
- Repetition of syllables (e.g., I wa-wa-want cookie)
- Repetition of whole words (e.g., I want-want-want cookie)
- Interjections (e.g., “um” “like” “uh”)
- Blockages: a blockage is when the mouth is positioned to produce a sound, but nothing comes out
When to Refer to a Speech-Language Pathologist
If you have concerns that your child may be stuttering, speak with a speech-language pathologist to help you determine if an assessment is warranted. A child may require therapy at the preschool, school-age, and/or teen age. You do not require a referral from a doctor to be seen by a certified speech-language pathologist for fluency concerns.
How to Change Communication Styles to Promote Fluency
It is important to establish an environment that allows everyone to be heard. The following are suggestions to promote a relaxed and safe environment for speaking and to promote fluency for children who stutter:
1. Take turns when speaking
Encourage family and friends to take turns speaking. It can be difficult for children to speak if they need to interrupt someone or others constantly interrupt them. Children who stutter may take longer to get their messages out, but if they are consistently cut off, they may not feel that they can express themselves. There may be more stuttering occurrences if the child feels he/she needs to speak quickly to be heard.
2. Model a slower rate of speech
Speak with your child using a slower rate, pausing frequently. Modeling a slower and relaxed rate is more effective than telling the child to, “slow down” or “say it again, but slowly.” If children observe their parents speaking slower, it reduces the expectation that they need to get their messages across quickly. This may improve fluent moments. Put this into practice: try to read a book slowly with the child or speak slowly at the dinner table.
3. Be a good listener
Try to set aside time to give your child your undivided attention. During this time, allow the child to complete his/her thoughts, even if dysfluencies occur. Look at each other when speaking and listening. If the child stutters, it is okay to keep eye contact as it shows the child that stuttering is not something to be ashamed of.
4. Ask fewer questions
When we ask questions, we are placing demands onto the child. These demands may attribute to more instances of stuttering. Rule of thumb, if you know the answer then make a comment compared to a question. For example, instead of asking, “what is this?” you can provide a comment, ‘look, a snow truck!” Questions can be open-ended such as, “How was your day?” “What did you learn at school today?” These questions allow the child to express him/herself, without the pressures of performing, to provide a parent with a correct response.
5. Be a cheerleader
Provide verbal praise for skills or activities that are not speech related. Children respond to verbal praise and it helps to build their self-confidence as a person, not only as a verbal communicator. Find activities that your child enjoys.
Everyone should take the time to stop and smell the roses, but most importantly take the time to stop and listen.
For further information about stuttering, the following resources are reliable and helpful:
American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA): Stuttering. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering.htm
The Stuttering Foundation: FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.stutteringhelp.org/faq