It can be a very worrying time when your child suddenly starts to stammer.
Maybe you know someone who stammers or you’ve seen the film ‘The King’s speech’ ? You might worry about the future: will it affect your child’s education, job or social relationships?
Some parents feel guilty and worry that somehow they might have caused the stammer.
WHAT IS A STAMMER?
# Learning to talk, like most skills we learn, takes time and doesn’t always go smoothly. Some children stumble over words and sounds which makes their talking sound bumpy. They might repeat words or sounds or stretch them out. Sometimes they might stop and start again or really struggle to get their words out at all, which can be frustrating for them and upsetting for you.
# About 5% of children under 5 experience a period of stammering. It usually starts between 2-5 years, at a time when speech and language are rapidly developing, and is much more common in boys than in girls.
WHAT CAUSES A STAMMER?
# Stammering is a complex problem and there appears to be no one single cause, rather a combination of factors may be involved in both its onset, development and persistence.
# Parents don’t cause stammering – so please don’t blame yourself.
WON’T THEY JUST GROW OUT OF IT?
The good news is that 4 out of 5 young children who go through a period of stammering will recover. Your child may be more ‘at risk’ of the stammer persisting if:
# They have been stammering for more than a year and aren’t showing signs of getting better
# You have close relatives who have a persistent stammer.
# They show awareness and anxiety about their speech
# You are very anxious about their talking
Far too often I’ve met with parents who have been advised, by well-meaning but uninformed health professionals, to adopt a ‘watchful wait’ i.e. “Let’s leave it for 6 months and see if he just grows out of it himself”. Unfortunately this isn’t a good idea and evidence shows that early intervention is the most beneficial. A Speech and Language Therapist will be able to look at your child’s risk of persistent stammering and support you and your child appropriately. If you are at all concerned it is important to get practical help soon, rather than leave it until later, when things are harder to deal with.
WHAT DOES A THERAPIST DO?
There are a range of early intervention approaches available, some are more indirect, working alongside parents and your child’s other ‘important adults’ (looking at positive interaction strategies and environmental changes that can help) and some that work more directly with your child’s speech. The important thing is that you seek some help now.