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Facts about stammering

Stammering, also known as stuttering or dysfluency is a disruption in the flow of speech. Stammering is common in children, it happens in all cultures and social groups. Parents do not cause stammering, research shows that it is primarily a neurological condition related to the part of the brain where speech develops. Stammering is often hereditary; approximately 60% of people who stammer have another family member who stammers.

About one in twelve children will experience stammering, usually between the ages of two and five coinciding with the time their speech and language skills start to rapidly develop. However some children will start to stammer after the age of five. For many children, their stammer will resolve naturally, about 8% of children will stammer at some point in their lives and approximately 3% of adults in the UK report that they stammer. Stammering is more common in boys than in girls, around 75% of adults who stammer are male.

Stammering is very individual and will present differently in each person. Stammering may start gradually or very suddenly and it is also variable, sometimes a person may stammer a lot and sometimes very little.

Your child may:
  • Repeat sounds e.g. ‘b-b-ball’ or words e.g. ‘my my my house’
  • Stretch out sounds in a word e.g. ‘mmmmum’
  • Get stuck on a sound where no sound comes out for several seconds
  • Show signs of tension in their face or upper body when speaking
  • Use excess body movements when speaking e.g. eye blinking, foot stamping or fist clenching
  • Lose eye contact when getting stuck
  • Show unusual breathing patterns e.g. taking a big breath before talking
  • Avoid certain words or speaking situations e.g. speaking out loud in class.

 

The Impact of Stammering on Communication Development

Stammering affects children in different ways; some will be unaware of their stammer and unaffected by it. If the stammer persists, older children and teenagers can begin to think negatively about themselves due to their stammer. They may feel embarrassment, frustration and anxiety about talking. They may start to avoid words they think they will stammer on or avoid talking in certain situations to certain people. They may also be teased due to their stammer.


Speech and Language Therapy

Speech and language therapy can help to support a child or young person with their stammer to minimise the impact it has on their life.

There is no ‘cure’ for stammering but for many young children, their stammer will resolve naturally or will reduce with the help of speech and language therapy. 

For children who continue to stammer as they get older, it is less likely that they will stop stammering but therapy will support them to manage their stammer and be confident communicators so that they can reach their potential.

What speech and language therapy involves:

  • Working indirectly with parents: This type of therapy is usually offered first. It involves working with parents to put strategies in place in the child’s environment to increase the child’s capacity to speak more fluently and reduce any demands which may be impacting upon the child’s fluency.
  • Working directly with the child or young person: This involves exploring techniques to support the child to manage their stammer and speak more fluently. Direct therapy also aims to develop a child’s understanding of stammering, help them to become confident and effective communicators and explore their thoughts and feelings about stammering to reduce avoidance and the impact of any negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Support at school/nursery: Speech and language therapy can also involve liaising with your child’s school/nursery to keep them informed about what we are working on in therapy and how they can support the child in the setting. This is only ever done with consent from you and your child.
  • We also run speech and language therapy groups for children and young people who stammer. This gives children and young people the opportunity to meet other people who stammer of a similar age. Children and young people who have attended our groups have found them to be highly beneficial in developing their confidence and reducing negative feelings related to stammering.


When to Refer to Speech and Language Therapy

It is difficult to predict if your child’s stammer will resolve naturally or persist as they get older however there are certain factors which may suggest that the stammer will continue:

  • Someone else in the family stammers or used to stammer
  • Your child has difficulties producing speech sounds when talking
  • Your child is aged 3 and a half or over and has just started to stammer
  • Your child is aged between 2 and 3 and a half and the stammer has been happening for more than a few months and is becoming more noticeable.

 

If you or your child are worried then do not hesitate to refer to speech and language therapy as the earlier you refer the better.

You can refer to speech and language therapy using the referral form available on our website. You can do this yourself or ask school/nursery, a health visitor or doctor to do this for you.

You can also contact our advice line on 0121 466 6231 for advice and support.


Bilingualism and Stammering

Bilingualism/multilingualism is where a child speaks or is exposed to two or more languages. Being bilingual or multilingual does not cause stammering. Continue to expose your child to all languages and allow them to mix languages as this is natural for bilingual children.

If your child is stammering and you are worried then you can refer to Speech and Language Therapy. If your child needs speech and language therapy, this will be carried out in the language best suited to you and your child.


How you can help

How you and other people in the child’s life respond is very important and will shape the child’s thoughts and feelings about themselves and their stammer. Try to stay calm and relaxed and try not to show that you are worried.

  • Be patient. Listen to your child and give them time to say what they want. Show that you are interested in what they are saying rather than how they are saying it
  • Try not to finish your child’s words and sentences for them
  • Have 1:1 time with your child for 5-10 minutes regularly, where they do not have to compete for attention with tasks or other family members. Let them choose a game or toy to play with and follow their lead in play.
  • Try to keep your own speech calm and steady by slowing your rate of speech and pausing before you speak; this will help to reduce any time pressure your child may feel
  • Avoid telling your child to slow down or take a deep breath. While this is well meant, slowing down our rate of speech is extremely difficult to maintain and taking a deep breath is not always helpful
  • Help your child to think positively about the things they do well. Give specific praise, e.g. “That story you wrote was really imaginative” or “You were really helpful this morning when you made your bed”
  • Talk openly and positively about stammering at home. Talk to your child if they seem upset or worried about their speech. Acknowledge their difficulties and give them reassurance and encouragement, just as you would with any other difficulty your child is having. You might say something like ‘talking can be tricky, lots of people get stuck at times and that’s ok, keep trying as you’re doing really well’.
  • Try to reduce the number of questions you ask your child, ask one question at a time and give them lots of time to reply. Avoid asking questions that are too complicated for your child and try using comments rather than questions to start a conversation e.g. instead of asking your child what they did at school today, perhaps talk about what you did today.
  • Keep natural eye contact with your child; try not to look away when they stammer.
  • Treat everyone in the family the same, including your child. Make sure that everyone gets a turn in the conversation.
  • Try to keep a consistent routine when possible when it comes to bed time, meals and discipline. This can help to reduce tiredness and irritability.
     

Further advice and support

 

Information sheets

 

Contact the free, anonymous and confidential British Stammering Association helpline on: 0808 802 0002 or access the webchat at www.stamma.org (open weekdays 10am-noon; 6pm-8pm). Call or chat to access information, off load or to talk through any concerns. Teenagers can use this to access help and support or to practise speech techniques or interviews.

Information taken from THE BRITISH STAMMERING ASSOCIATION (2018). www.stamma.org. Accessed online: 15/04/20

Introduction to SLT for children who stammer