Parents often wonder if stuttering in their young child is normal. It makes parents nervous when they hear their child repeating words and sentences as they are trying to speak, but many children do go through a normal period of time where they are showing some stuttering-like behaviors. These normal stuttering behaviours may include repeating words and phrases at the beginning of sentences when they are trying to express themselves. This is known as developmental dysfluency. Developmental dysfluency is seen in 15 to 25% of children during their preschool years. The hallmarks of developmental dysfluency is characterized by children saying the same word a few times at the beginning of their sentences (e.g., This, this, this is the toy that I want.). It is also common to hear repetitions of entire phrases (e.g., “I want, I want to, to go outside.”). There are other types of stuttering behavior that might require more professional attention and may not be considered a normal phase. For example, if a child is dragging out or prolonging the first sound of the word (e.g., “Whhhhhhhhy did you buy me that?) or they sound like they are completely stuck and cannot get a sound or word to come out. Speech-language pathologist would take into account the following information to influence their recommendations:
- The type of stuttering behaviours seen in the child
- His or her age and how long they have been stuttering for
- Any family history of stuttering
If the Speech-Language Pathologist feels that the stuttering is not developmental in nature and might require treatment, there are a number of different approaches for treating stuttering in preschoolers. One popular approach is to begin by coaching parents on strategies to help control and change the environment which exasperates the child’s stuttering behaviors. For example, parents might be taught to NOT finish their child sentences and to give them plenty of time to formulate their sentences. They are encouraged to not interrupt a child when they are going through their stuttering moment. These types of strategies are helpful for reducing time pressure and encouraging normal stutter-free speech in young children. There is no specific feedback or direct attention drawn to the child’s stuttering.
Another approach that has been popular for treating preschoolers with stuttering is The Lidcombe Program for Preschoolers who Stutter. This approach is a behavioral-based approach where parents are trained to provide verbal praise and verbal correction for each stuttered behavior by the child. This program is administered under the guidance of a trained speech-language pathologist. Research studies show a high success rate for this parent-lead intervention.
Every child is different and may respond in their own way to direct versus a less direct approach to treatment. If you are not sure if your child is experiencing normal, developmental dysfluency or if you child is showing signs of stuttering that may be more persistent, contact a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist who is experienced with preschool stuttering so that you can have peace of mind on how to support and help your child during this time.