For a good number of children, stuttering (also referred to as stammering) is merely a way of learning to put words together properly and use their native language. Not uncommon between the ages of 2 and 5, most children who are affected by some degree of stuttering outgrow it on their own without the need of professional involvement. If the problem persists and is left untreated while the child is still developing, stuttering can develop into a life-long speech impediment that can cause issues in an adults daily functioning. It is difficult for parents to determine whether or not it is necessary to bring a health care professional into the picture or to wait it out. The most important thing parents can do while their child is developing until age 5 is to ensure they have a stress-free environment in which the child will feel comfortable speaking freely.
Common symptoms of stuttering in the early stages of development include:
- Difficulty staring at a word or a phrase for long periods of time
- The repetition of a word, sound or syllable
- Tremors of the jaw or lips
- Tension or tightness of the muscles around the jaw, face and upper body
- Rapid eye blinking
After the age of 5, a parent or guardian should seek profession help if the child displays the following symptoms:
- Stuttering is still noticeable in early school years
- Stuttering occurs with other body movements
- Tension in upper body has become more common and/or worse
- Stuttering lasts for a period longer than 6 months
- Stuttering becomes more frequent
- Stuttering affects the child’s social interactions
- Stuttering affects the child’s schoolwork
- Causes emotional problems such as anxiety
Though not the initial cause, stress, fatigue and elevated levels of excitement as the child develops can make the stuttering worse. Research has shown that in some cases there is an underlying genetic link in stuttering. Known by health professionals as a developmental disability, stuttering is generally caused by the child’s language abilities not being developed enough to allow the child to speak what they want to/need to say. Another possible cause of stuttering is an issue with the signaling between the nerves and muscles that control speech. These transmitters are not working together properly, are not in synch which causes the lapse in being able to speak clearly.
Monitoring the level of severity and the frequentness of the stuttering are the first things you can do to diagnose stuttering. If the stuttering is severe and frequent enough to be classified with the above symptoms, a health care professional such as speech-language pathologist is needed. This professional will evaluate the child and ask about the child’s and the family’s health history.
There is no definite cure for stuttering. A number of medications have been used but there are no specific medications that can cure this disorder. Speech therapy is the most successful treatment used in stuttering. Increased parental involvement in the therapy has shown to increase the rate of recovery from stuttering as well as the use of controlled fluency in the child’s speaking. In addition, there are certain electronic devices that have been used to help stuttering. One of these devices provides auditory feedback so the child can hear themselves and make improvements that way. Another mimics the child speaking so it sounds as if the child is speaking in unison with someone else.