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House Call: When stuttering persists in children, seek help

Dr. Alisa Hideg

When a person involuntarily repeats a sound, usually at the beginning of a word, it is called stuttering.

Oct. 22 is the International Stuttering Awareness Day. About 5 percent of children will develop a stutter. It may last anywhere from weeks to years, although most children outgrow it. Around 1 percent of adults stutter throughout their lives. Stuttering is often worse with anxiety or in stressful situations.

There are many ideas as to the cause or causes of stuttering being researched. In 2010, researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders identified three genes linked to stuttering when this speech problem runs in a family.

Stuttering is common in young children. However, consider having your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist if:

• your child stutters for more than six months.

• you notice other speech or language problems.

• your child is struggling to speak or is becoming anxious about speaking.

• stuttering affects his or her ability to communicate effectively.

If you want more information about recognizing communication disorders, including stuttering, the website identifythesigns.org may be helpful.

Working with a speech-language pathologist can help determine the most appropriate treatment options for your child. These services can be made available through your child’s school district or possibly through a referral from their health care provider.

Stuttering therapy may include learning strategies to improve speech fluency and decrease anxiety while communicating. Drug therapy is not considered effective for treating stuttering and there are no drugs approved for the treatment of stuttering.

Besides specific treatments, you may be encouraged to provide a relaxed home environment with many opportunities for your child to speak. Gentle praise for your child when he or she speaks fluently can be helpful. Sometimes adopting a slightly slower speech pattern yourself can ease pressure your child may be feeling. Be sure your child knows you are paying attention when he or she is speaking. Do not try to complete sentences for your child. If your child wants to talk with you about stuttering, it can help to listen to their concerns.

When talking to anyone who stutters, child or adult, give time for them to express themselves. Suggestions such as “slow down” or “relax” are usually not helpful because they suggest that stuttering should be something easy to overcome. Appearing impatient or annoyed can sometimes make it even harder for a person with a stutter to speak to you. You might ask – in a tactful, matter-of-fact way – if there is any way to respond when he or she stutters that is helpful. Make it clear that you are interested in what he or she has to say, not in how it is being said.

If you stutter, you may find self-help groups to be useful as a source of support and a way of finding helpful resources in your area. The Stuttering Foundation (800-992-9392, www.stutteringhelp.org) and the National Stuttering Association (800-937-8888, www.westutter.org) can also help with finding local resources and other information on stuttering.

Electronic devices can be helpful in some cases. Some of these require you to slow down your speech to prevent it from sounding distorted and there are devices that make it sound like you are talking in unison with someone else. Just remember that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

Stuttering does not need to limit a person’s relationships, achievements or anything else. Stuttering may be overcome by some children while others will continue to experience it all their lives. As with other speech difficulties, it is important to get appropriate support and treatment as early as possible.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.
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