Addressing the Stigma of Stuttering

Listening to your child speak is one of the great joys of being a parent or guardian. From silence to sounds to individual words, and then finally to fully formed sentences, you get to watch your child’s speech come to life. With their ability to speak, they gain the ability to communicate, and the world inside their head begins to come to life. When our children learn to speak, we get to learn more about who they are.

Naturally, anything that impedes this process can be frustrating, for both parents and children. Stuttering in particular is something that comes on without warning, and throws a wrench into this newly-opened pathway of communication between us and our children. Even more frustrating is the fact that a child’s stuttering affects more than just their speech. It can affect a child’s view of himself, and sometimes, how others see them. This can lead the child to withdraw from activities in order to minimize feelings of embarrassment or uncomfortableness. While the drawbacks of this are obvious, it has the added consequence of worsening the stuttering.

Further complicating factors is the fact that the techniques a child uses to address stuttering may bring on the same feelings of anxiety, as they differ from what the child considers “normal speech.”

Here at Bliss Speech & Hearing Services in Dallas, TX, we’ve worked with many families to help alleviate stuttering and the stigmas and anxieties that surround it. We’ve assembled some common questions below, along with answers to help your family.

Will my child’s stutter go away?

For many children who begin stuttering before entering school, their stuttering will stop. However, there is no guarantee of this. And the longer stuttering persists, the more likely it is that the stuttering will continue. Speech therapy is valuable in teaching your child techniques to manage and possibly alleviate their stuttering.

However, there is no guarantee that your child will outgrow their stuttering, or that speech therapy will completely eliminate the issue. This can be a tough concept for many to understand. While many children stop stuttering, for many others, stuttering persists into their teenage years and beyond. It’s important to realize that your child’s stuttering may be a chronic issue, and not a temporary “hiccup” in their speech.

Why does my child stutter certain times and not others?

The severity of a child’s stuttering can vary greatly from week to week or even day to day. They may speak without stuttering while working with their speech therapist, then begin stuttering again when they return home or to school. Sometimes, a child’s stuttering will go away for several weeks, then return without any noticeable cause.

This can be the most difficult issue for parents and guardians—and children themselves—to understand. It’s true that stress is one issue that plays a role in stuttering. But often times, this leads parents or guardians to the mistaken conclusion that simply managing anxieties will alleviate stuttering. Illness, excitement, fatigue, and other imperceptible changes in your child’s body may all play a role in their stuttering.

Does stuttering affect more than just my child’s speech?

As discussed above, children may withdraw from activities or social situations where they may stutter in order to avoid negative reactions from others or their own feelings of embarrassment. As children learn techniques to address their stuttering—for example, taking frequent pauses as they speak—they may still feel embarrassed, as these techniques are noticeably different from how others speak.

Children may also develop techniques to hide their stuttering. They may rearrange words, pretend to forget what they were going to say, use interjections like “um” and “uh,” or simply decline to speak altogether. Some children become so effective at hiding their stuttering that it appears as if they do not stutter. While this may seem like “effective coping,” in reality, it means that children are still not saying what they want to say, how they want to say it. As they hide from their stuttering, the issues can often become more deeply ingrained.

Is it helpful to tell my child to slow down when they’re speaking?

Often times, as parents and guardians, we feel the urge to try and help our children with their stuttering as they’re speaking. We may try to fill in words for them, or offer advice like “take a deep breath.” The faster children speak, the more they tend to stutter, so parents and guardians often attempt to help by telling their child simply to “relax” and “slow down.”

These efforts are well-intentioned, but often have the opposite effect of what was intended. Children are aware of their stuttering; calling further attention to it can increase the feeling of “doing something wrong.” Children may interpret the advice being given as impatience or frustration on the part of the listener. What’s more, comments like “relax” and “slow down” may suggest to your child that their issues with stuttering can and should be easily overcome, when in reality, that’s not the case.

Should we not talk about the stuttering at all?

Not trying to “coach” your child’s speech and not talking about stuttering are two very different things. Many parents and guardians try to avoid making their child feel self-conscious by not acknowledging the stuttering at all. Again, they have good intentions, but this, too, can add to feelings of shame or embarrassment.

Children may interpret this avoidance as further confirmation that they are doing something wrong. It’s important that we work to create a safe and comfortable home environment for our children where we acknowledge their stuttering while providing them the space and time to work through it at their own pace.

What can my child do at school?

As we’ve mentioned, one of the biggest difficulties for children who stutter is their feeling that they’re doing something wrong, something they need to hide. We’ve also discussed that it can be difficult to know exactly how best to respond when someone stutters. However, face-to-face contact and communication is one of the most effective strategies for alleviating the stigma attached to stuttering.

For this reason, we’ve found that it’s helpful for children to self-disclose their issues with stuttering to their peers, when and how they feel comfortable doing so. It’s important to respect the child’s wishes, allowing them to disclose this information in a manner of their choosing at a time they’re comfortable with. Some children do this on a one-on-one basis, while others have found it helpful to work with their parents, guardians, <href=”#therapists”>speech-language pathologists, or teachers to put together a presentation for their class.

What can I do at home?

As we mentioned above, it’s imperative that a child’s home be a place where they feel comfortable. Allow them to speak at their own pace, giving them the time to say what they want to say. Avoid peppering them with too many questions, or offering advice on how best to speak.

Rather than telling your child to slow down, one of the best things you can do for your child is to model slow, relaxed speech. Do your best to speak in an unhurried manner, pausing frequently. Many parents and guardians urge their children to slow down, while speaking rapidly themselves. Children are more likely to follow your example than your instructions. Your child’s speech-language pathologist can provide advice on best to model this kind of speech. Contact Bliss Speech & Hearing Services if you live in the Dallas area and need child speech therapy services to help your son or daughter with stuttering.

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