Is it truly stuttering?

Children often have difficulties with speaking fluently during their intensive language learning years (2- 5). For most toddlers and preschoolers, these disfluencies go away on their own.

During this time, children are expanding their vocabularies rapidly and learning complex language rules. These rules allow them to change simple messages (“Mommy water”) into longer, more complicated sentences that require more motor coordination to produce smoothly (“Mommy put the water in the blue cup”). It is only natural that there may be some disruptions along the way.

It is also very typical for a child to go back and forth between periods of fluency and disfluency.

As a parent or caregiver you may notice any of the following disruptions in the flow of speech:

• The repetition of one-syllable words or parts of words, especially at the beginning of sentences (“I-I want that”).
• Children might also repeat whole words or phrases (“You-you-you”) or (“I see—I see—I see”).
• Hesitating and inserting filler words (“I played on the … uh … swing”).
• Incomplete sentences followed by a focus on something else (“My bear — the towel is dry”).

These are usually normal if children do not show tension or a physical struggle such as eye blinking, grimaces and frustration at the same time. Also, they do not try to avoid speaking or seem bothered by their speech. They may not even appear to notice. Lastly, they say many of their sentences fluently.

How parents or caregivers react to the child’s speech disfluencies can influence how comfortable the child feels in his or her ability to express and get others to listen.

Here are some tips from experts:
• It is skillful not to call attention to any speech disfluencies as it may create self-consciousness and pressure.
• Pay attention to what the child is saying, not the way he or she says it.
• Be patient and relaxed, rather than irritated when the child is talking to you.
• Avoid suggestions such as “Slow down”, or “Can you say that more clearly?”
• Minimise questions and interruptions when the child is speaking.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech, talk with your doctor or pediatrician about getting a speech and language evaluation.