Learning to speak is one of the most difficult things that any child will face. Most toddlers start chatting at around 18 months. Soon it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise! Some children, though, may have language difficulties that seem to come out of nowhere. If your child has started stuttering there are a few possible causes and some things you can do to help.
There is no one cause of stuttering
Stuttering is a condition where a person is unable to clearly speak. They tend to repeat syllables and certain sounds as they try to speak. Stuttering is involuntary and there is no single cause of stuttering. There is no cure for stuttering but there are treatments that can help. Frequently, stuttering in children will disappear within a few weeks or months. Most children will stop stuttering before age five. Most causes of stuttering in children are nothing to be concerned about.
What are the symptoms of stuttering?
Stuttering presents in many ways. Most people think of a person that repeats a single sound over and over. However, stuttering can also include excessive use of words such as “um” or “like” or elongated sounds such as “sss”. Stuttering can often be accompanied by facial tics, trembling, anxiety, and taking long pauses when speaking. Stuttering usually worsens when the person is tired or upset.
Stuttering can appear overnight
A stutter can take you by surprise. One day your child is chatting away perfectly normally and the next they begin to display a stutter. In children younger than five, this is not uncommon. Many children develop a temporary stutter as a part of their language development. In most children this age the cause is a difficulty with using their new vocabulary. Between 18 months and three years a toddler is learning new words very quickly. When they have had time to process the new information the stutter will disappear as quickly as it came.
When to seek out professional help for stuttering
A stutter is normal for most children but there are situations where you should seek professional help. If the stutter persists until your child is starting school it could be a sign of a language processing disorder. If the child’s face, jaw, and neck have become stiff it could be a sign of a serious medical concern. If the stutter stops your child from trying to speak or they avoid specific words. If they are having difficulty speaking at all. If they are repeating words and phrases instead of syllables. In these cases, call your child’s pediatrician.
Childhood stuttering can be caused by a brain injury
If the stutter appears shortly after an injury or accident it is possible they may have a brain injury. A stutter that is the result of a brain injury is called neurogenic stuttering. The injury has caused a problem with the communication between the brain and the nerves and muscles involved in speech. Neurogenic stuttering cannot be cured but can sometimes be improved through therapeutic treatments.
What can you do to help
There are some things that you can do to help your child manage their stutter. Stuttering is not usually caused by a child not understanding how to speak correctly. It is better not to correct your child when they stutter or insist that they speak normally all the time. Doing so will only increase their anxiety and potentially make it worse. Rather than telling your child to “slow down” or “take a breath” engage in casual conversation. Do not draw attention to the stutter.
When your child’s stutter worsens or upsets them suggest activities that will not require them to speak aloud. Do not ask them to read out loud or insist they continue conversations if they are not comfortable. Increasing anxiety will usually only make a stutter worse. The stutter will probably go away soon enough without any need to be concerned.