When expressing words become a challenge
Speech is an outlet for individuals. Through speech, you are able to express your feelings and speak your mind to others. Speech is essential as it allows others to also listen to you and understand your feelings and thoughts.
From the moment you learn to speak, you use speech at every stage of your life. From asking for milk when you’re feeling hungry to securing business deals, verbal expressions are critical.
However, imagine if you’re unable to express your thoughts through words, smoothly and easily. Imagine how frustrating this could be. The truth is, there are individuals who are experiencing these issues from a very young age.
As a parent, you may be concerned if your child seems to be having difficulties pronouncing words or sentences. Is your child stuttering or is it just a learning phase that he is going through? Senior Speech-Language Therapist (SLT) (instead of pathologist) from Sunway Medical Centre, Jessica Tharmapal, sheds light on childhood stuttering.
Words become difficult
Stuttering is a developmental speech disorder that happens among children. “Usually, symptoms of stuttering will appear between the ages of three to eight as this is the stage when children are developing their speech (instead of starting to talk),” says Jessica. When the child’s speech starts building up, like when they start to have the ability to form phrases and sentences, the symptoms of stuttering may become more prominent.
The onset of stuttering can happen at an early stage in a child’s life and it can also occur gradually. “This could mean that the child may start stuttering at the age of three or there is also a possibility that the child may not have any stuttering symptoms until four or later,” explains Jessica.
The reason behind it
The exact cause of stuttering has not been identified. However, Jessica shares that there are some studies that have identified genetics as a possible cause of stuttering. She explains that, “If you have a family history of stuttering, there is a likelihood that a family member might have stuttering.” Besides genetics, there are also other possible factors that may cause stuttering among children. These include experiencing a brain injury or stroke.
It’s a stuttering sign
No one has perfect speech and there were times when you ‘stuttered’ or found it difficult to pronounce words. The condition known as stuttering, on the other hand, has prominent symptoms and there are several types. Jessica explains that they include:
Single word repetition
This refers to when a child repeats a single word in a sentence.
For example: I-I-I-I-I-I am hungry!
When a child is repeating a phrase within a sentence.
For example: I want – I want – I want – I want to go to the toilet.
When a child repeats a syllable within a word in a sentence.
For example: I want to hold the bo – bo – bo – bottle.
Blocking is when a child is trying to get a syllable or sound out, but getting stuck, making no noise.
For example: I love to eat fried (silence) chicken.
When the child prolongs the sound in a word.
For example: Tonight I have ba——let class.
Besides the symptoms above, Jessica says that other observable signs to look out for include tension at the jaw, blinking or head or arm movements when stuttering. “This is one of the ways we differentiate if a child is stuttering compared to a child who may just be stumbling between words but not stuttering,” she says.
There are many ways to manage stuttering among children. The method of treatment varies depending on the age when the child receives intervention.
“There are indirect treatments which include counselling families and advising them about how they can make changes in the child’s environment. For example, being patient when the child is trying to converse and not rushing the child,” Jessica advises.
As for direct treatment methods, this is mainly targeted at the child’s speech. One of the treatment programs is the Lidcombe program. “The Lidcombe program has been proven to be effective among children between the ages of four to six,” says Jessica. “With the Lidcombe program, parents are guided by SLTs to help their child become fluent in their speech.”
This program is said to be the gold standard of treatment among young children as it is highly effective. The program is divided into two stages.
The first stage involves frequent therapy sessions with a SLT. Both parents and child are involved in each session, usually held once a week. The second stage, is categorised as the ‘maintenance level’. At this stage, the child may not need to attend therapy sessions as often as in stage one. The aim in stage two, is to ensure that stuttering does not recur.
“If a child stutters beyond the age of seven, it is highly possible that the child may not entirely stop stuttering,” says Jessica. If a child is at this stage, another treatment technique can be applied. The treatment is called Smooth Speech Techniques. “For this technique, the objective is to manage stuttering and to maintain the fluency of speech using the techniques accurately all the time,” she explains.
Boys are at a higher risk of experiencing stuttering compared to girls. If you have a concern about your child’s language and speech difficulties, seek advice from a SLT. “If you are in doubt, take your child for an assessment as a SLT will be able to identify the condition and advice accordingly,” advises Jessica.
Stuttering can have a psychological impact on your child’s life. Your child may feel anxious and more conscious when talking to friends. Besides that, stuttering can also put your child at risk of being bullied. Jessica advises parents to consider seeking help from a child psychologist, especially if the child is already a victim of bullying.