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How a Parent Can Help Their Child With Stuttering

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell


    In our family we have 4 stutters; Mommy and 3 of our boys. Not being able to get the words out fast enough can lead to frustration on mommy’s part, but it is probably nothing compared to the feeling of despair a child gets when needing to defend oneself or speak up with friends. For many years we just hoped that stuttering would go away. In fact, with one of the boys it totally did after the age of 7. However, with the other 2, especially during times when speech is hardest like on the phone or in front of a crowd, that ‘ole bouncing tongue or explosive wording pops up again.

We have never made an issue of stuttering in our home. It has been such a part of our lives that many times we do not even notice. We learned to wait patiently for the words to come. Confirmed stuttering, anger and facial grimacing trying to get words out finally lead us to get some material to help us help our sons. As in many areas of therapy, the information is out there for parents to diligently learn and implement helpful coping techniques.

    Stuttering is interesting. It seems to be linked to emotions such as fear or being put on the spot. Yet, improvement is possible for others and us by using simple techniques. Normal disfluency or stuttering? How do we know what we are dealing with?

Here are the guidelines for differentiating a stutterer from a nonaffluent child from the book Treating the School Age Stutterer A Guide for Clinicians. Publication #14.

Speech Behaviors Indicating Risk of Becoming a Stutterer

1. Facial tremors caused by excessive tension.

2. Speaks cautiously.

3. Speaks very rapidly, almost compulsively

4. Speaks too loudly or softly.

5. Evidences of struggle and tension while speaking.

6. Blocks the airflow.

7. Raises the pitch or volume during disfluencies.

8. Accompanying body movements during disfluencies.

9. Signs of embarrassment while speaking.

10. Uneven repetitions

11.Use of the schwa vowel on his repetitions.

12. Many repetitions (5 or more) during a word.

13. Stops in the middle of a word, backs up and starts over.

14. Evidence of avoiding certain words.

15. More than one disfluency during a sentence.


    Non-Speech Behavior Indicating Risk of Becoming a Stutterer

1. Shyness, looks away especially when he is disfluent.

2. Low self-concept.

3. Other nervous habits, e.g. nail biting, bed-wetting, hyperactivity.

4. Poor socialization skills.

5. Evidences of depression and sadness.

6. Worry.

    This does not mean just because a child displays one or more of these behaviors that they are stutterers, but it may help us with confirmation. It is hard to put a stutterer in a box because there are so many kinds of stuttering and ways to stutter. Also a child may stutter only occasionally. If you have noticed that your child stutters in a variety of speaking situations such as when conversing with you or friends, in relaxation, in aggressive or excited play, when talking to strangers or on the phone, in a crowd or only one-on-one, you have a good idea when and where he needs help.

Many parents and speech therapists are worried about working with a stuttering child because they have noticed that a child who stutters may become embarrassed or uncomfortable when encouraged to "try" harder. They fear that drawing attention to the stuttering itself may worsen or make a child really sad. Believe it or not, directly confronting stuttering in a positive way is a good way to begin therapy. This book, Treating The School Age Stutter, A Guide For Clinicians Publication #14 tells clinicians (and parents who would like to learn) how to do this. Sometimes indirect therapy works for a borderline stutterer. These are children who have no shame or are unaware they are speaking any different than any else. Here a parent or clinician actually echoes the child’s stuttering pattern, inserting the same in their own speech, with models of how to say it better occasionally, correcting themselves.


The Mild Stutterer


    In children who are stuttering mildly, we can help a child use a better model of stuttering than the one he is using. This is a stepping stone to helping a child overcome. A stutterer has likely faced a lot of frustration at trying to help themselves and they may not really have the hope that they will not stutter some day. However, they can be lead gently toward a easier form of stuttering that may in fact be the key to helping them stop stuttering so often, or help them get the words out easier. Communication is the goal. When most people correct a stuttering child, they demand that the child say the word just like they do. However, many children cannot say the word, even with practice, with consistency. Sometimes he just can’t. Instead we might use a milder repetition or way to say the word that enables the word to flow out easier. There are tools that this book can help us as parents learn to help our stutters.

Here are the sections in the Mild Stutters Chapter:

Descriptions of the Mild Stutterer as Distinguished from the Borderline Stutterer

The Outline of Treatment: Gradual but Direct Confrontation

The First Confrontation

Making Stuttering More Voluntary

Exploring the Emotional Nature of A Child

Exploring Struggle and Tension

Reducing the Severity of Repetitions and Prolongations


The Confirmed Stutterer


    It seems that some parents and therapists see only adolescent and adults as confirmed stutterers.

    Treating the School Age Stutterer A Guide for Clinicians. Publication #14 disagrees. It defines a confirmed stutterer as a child that has speech that is characterized by repetitions that often last for more than five beats. These repetitions sometimes rise in pitch or loudness. They are frequent and come different places in the sentence, not just on the first word. The confirmed stutterer of any age tends to show signs of struggle and tension when he speaks. There may be facial contortions or other secondary characteristics resulting from his struggling. Often he will show some hurt or fear or shame although this is not always the case for some of our young confirmed stutterers that seem to show little concern about their stuttering. He often blocks the airflow on many of his utterances and these blockages may become so intense that he gets red in the face, blinks his eyes or jerks his body around. (This described one of our sons very well.)

    Another child may have very little overt stuttering because he has already learned how to hide it by postponing or avoiding words on which he feels he may have trouble (This describes mommy!) Or he may simply back up and start over like this: "I want the rrr...ah ah ...I want ah ahm...well I ah ant the car the red car."

The sections in the above for the Confirmed Stutterer Chapter are these:

The Three Ways of Saying Words:

The fluent way

The hard stuttering way and

The easy stuttering way

Locating Tension


Changing Stuttering to a Milder Form

Easy Stuttering for Clinicians

Inserting Easy Stuttering into Real Speech

The Use of Physical Contact

Changing Hard Stuttering During Real Speech

Getting Parents Involved

Building Fluency

Building Independence

    This book also has a great section and is very positive about getting parents involved. They realize that therapy, to be really effective, must be implemented more than a 1/2 hour each week. Acknowledging this fact means successful therapy, happy parents and happy children.

    We were pleasantly surprised at how receptive our 10-year-old son was to working on learning an easier form of stuttering. We put no pressure on him to stop stuttering. He was so eager to be able to do something that would help. He was able to grasp easy stuttering instead of hard stuttering. He was able to locate the tension in his mouth for each sound, to loosen it up and breathe the word out. The thrilling smile he gives us when we compliment him on how well he is doing is wonderful. He totally agrees and doesn’t hesitate to look for ways to continue to improve.

We have used the 1st Straight Talk manual for speech mispronunciations all along and are very happy to recommend the long time NATHHAN supporter, The Stuttering Foundation and their book for clinicians. Treating the School Age Stutterer A Guide for Clinicians. Publication #14. This book only cost $2.00 (you read that right just two dollars!)