Better Speech 7 min read

How to Help Children Who Stutter

If you have a friend or loved one who is stuttering, you may be wondering how you can best help them. There are many different ways to Help Children Who Stutter, and each person will respond differently. In this blog post, we will provide some tips on how to help someone who is stuttering. We hope that this information will be helpful for you!

Young boy trying to speak

For people who stutter, interactions with others may be stressful.
People have the best intentions, but are often unsure about how to respond when talking to someone who stutters. This uncertainty can cause listeners to do things without thinking, like looking away during moments of stuttering, interrupting the person, filling in words, or worse, simply not talking to people who stutter. Unfortunately, none of these reactions is particularly helpful.

And, while someone may think they are being helpful, suggestions like “slow down,” “relax,” or “take a deep breath,” can make them feel even more uncomfortable, because these comments may be perceived as suggesting that stuttering should be simple to overcome, but it is not!

In general, people who stutter are very aware that their speech is different, and that it takes them longer to say things. This sometimes leads them to feel pressure to speak quickly, which results in even more difficulty in communicating in a smooth, timely manner.

Therefore, listeners who appear impatient or annoyed may actually make it even harder for people who stutter to speak comfortably.

What you can do to help children who stutter.

When talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases the person’s sense of time pressure.

Of course, different people who stutter will have different ways of handling their speaking difficulties. Some will be comfortable talking about it with you, while others will not. In general, however, it can be quite helpful to simply ask the person what would be the most helpful way to respond to his or her stuttering. You might say something like, “I noticed that you stutter. Can you tell me how you prefer for people to respond when you stutter?” Often, people will appreciate your interest. In general, be aware to avoid “talking down,” or treating someone differently because they stutter, or have difficulty speaking. However, you can still try to find a matter-of-fact, supportive way to let them know that you are interested in what they are saying, rather than how they’re saying it. This can go a long way toward reducing awkwardness, uncertainty, or tension in the situation and make it easier for both parties to communicate effectively.

What your speech-language pathologist can do to help:

Free Consultation to help children who stutter

During an evaluation, an SLP can:

  • note the number and types of speech disfluencies your child produces in various situations.
  • assess the ways in which the person reacts to and copes with disfluencies.
  • gather information about factors such as teasing that may make the problem worse.
  • do other assessments (e.g., speech rate, language skills)

For young children, it is important to predict whether the stuttering is likely to continue. An evaluation consists of a series of tests, observations, and interviews designed to estimate the child’s risk for continuing to stutter.

Risk factors to be considered include:

  • Stuttering that has continued for 6 months or more
  • A family history of stuttering
  • Other speech or language disorders
  • Strong fears or concerns about stuttering on the part of the child or the family

For older children an evaluation consists of:

  • Tests or observations
  • Interviews to assess the severity of the disorder
  • Assessment of the impact the disorder has on the child’s communication
  • Abilities to participate appropriately in daily activities

Information from the evaluation is then used to develop a specific treatment program, one that is designed to:

  • Help the child speak more fluently and communicate effectively
  • Participate more fully in life activities

What treatments are available for children who stutter?

Most treatment programs for people who stutter are “behavioral.” They are designed to teach person-specific skills or behaviors that lead to improved oral communication. For instance, many speech therapists teach people who stutter to control and/or monitor the rate at which they speak. In addition, people may learn to start saying words in a slightly slower and less physically tense manner.

Kids may also learn to control, or monitor, their breathing. When learning to control speech rate, people often begin by practicing smooth, fluent speech at rates that are much slower than typical speech, using short phrases and sentences. Over time, kids learn to produce smooth speech at faster rates, in longer sentences, and in more challenging situations until speech sounds both fluent and natural. “Follow-up,” or “maintenance,” sessions are often needed when therapy ends to prevent relapse.

Why does someone stutter?

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. Recent studies suggest that genetics plays a role in the disorder. It is thought that many, if not most, individuals who stutter inherit traits that put them at risk to develop stuttering. The exact nature of these traits is presently unclear. Whatever the traits are, they obviously impair the individual’s ability to string together the various muscle movements that are necessary to produce sentences fluently.

Not everyone who is predisposed to stutter will develop the disorder. For many, certain life events are thought to “trigger” fluency difficulty. One of the triggers for developmental stuttering may be the development of grammar skills. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, children learn many of the grammatical rules of language. These rules allow children to change immature messages (“Mommy candy”) into longer sentences that require coordination to produce fluently (“Mommy put the candy in my backpack”).

A child who is predisposed to stutter may have no difficulty speaking fluently when sentences are only one or two words long. However, when the child starts trying to produce longer, more complex sentences, he or she may find himself or herself not quite up to the challenge, and disfluent speech results.

After stuttering has started, other factors may cause more disfluencies. For example, a child who is easily frustrated may be more likely to tighten or tense speech muscles when disfluencies occur. Such tension may increase how long a disfluency lasts. Listeners’ responses to stuttering (e.g., teasing) can aggravate fluency difficulties as well.

People who stutter vary widely in how they react to the disfluencies in their speech. Some appear to be minimally concerned. Others-especially those who have encountered poor reactions from listeners-may develop emotional responses to stuttering that hinder speech production further, like shame, embarrassment, and anxiety.

Remember to be kind and supportive of another who may be having challenges in speaking. Kindness and patience can be the best start.

Speech therapy for child and adult

What are the early signs and symptoms of stuttering?

How to help children who stutter

Often early signs include repetitions of words or parts of words, as well as prolongations of speech sounds. These disfluencies occur more often in persons who stutter than they do in the general population. Some people who stutter have tension or are “out of breath” when talking. Speech can stop or block. Blocked is when the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming.

With a lot of effort, person may complete the word. Interjections such as “um” or “like” can occur, as well, particularly when they contain repeated (“u- um- um”) or prolonged (“uuuum”) speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to “get stuck on.”

Here are some examples of stuttering:

  • “W- W- W- Where are you going?” (Part-word repetition: The person is having difficulty moving from the “w” in “where” to the remaining sounds in the word. On the fourth attempt, he successfully completes the word.)
  • “SSSS ave me a seat.” (Sound prolongation: The person is having difficulty moving from the “s” in “save” to the remaining sounds in the word. He continues to say the “s” sound until he is able to complete the word.)
”I’ll meet you – um um you know like – around six o’clock.” (A series of interjections: The person expects to have difficulty smoothly joining the word “you” with the word “around.” In response to the anticipated difficulty, he produces several interjections until he is able to say the word “around” smoothly.)

Identifying stuttering in an individual’s speech would seem like an easy task. Disfluencies often are obvious and can be disruptive to a person’s communication. Listeners can usually detect when a person is stuttering. At the same time, however, stuttering can affect more than just a person’s observable speech. Some characteristics of stuttered speech are not as easy for listeners to detect. As a result, diagnosing stuttering requires the skills of a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).