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The stuttering child: a guide.

The Stuttering Child: A Guide

"Mommy, mommy, I-I-I want to go-to go-to go out and play."

That's Matt, age 4. Is he stuttering or simply exhibiting "normal nonfluency" -- fluency irregularities that many children experience in early speech development?

According to speech-language pathologist Martin Adams, Ph.D., it's not uncommon for 3- to 6-year-olds to repeat whole words phrases and interjections.

But, adds Adams, head of the Communications Disorders Department at the University of Houston, a child who repeats parts of words ("tuh-tuh-tuh-table"), prolongs sounds ("ssssun"), or breaks words ("cow ... boy") may be at risk for stuttering and should be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist, the health professional specifically educated to treat communication disorders.

Temple University's Woodruff Stark-weather, Ph.d., agrees with Adams.

"We"ve heard many physicians tell parents that their kids will outgrow the disfluency," Starkweather says. "But we feel that evaluations are called for any time a parent is concerned about a child's speech patterns."

Starkweather, director of the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences Division of Temple's Department of Speech, says the danger of ignoring a potential problem is that it can become "locked in" during the crucial period of speech development -- between ages 5 and 7. "It's easier to help a child early on," he notes, "and the changes is likely to be more lasting."

Adams and Starkweather say that stuttering -- tension in the muscles that produce speech -- can be triggered by a variety of factors, including home and school pressures, physical problems, family history and faulty learning. And, they caution, because stuttering is a disorder, not a disease, parents should not think in terms of "absolute cures."

"The goal of all treatment approaches is progress toward improved fluency and a feeling of success in communicating," Starkweather says.

Meanwhile, Adams and Starkweather advise parents and teachers to do their part to encourage fluent speech development in young children. Here's what they recommend:

* Gear the rate of your speech to the child's; responding to rapid speech can make a child tense.

* Speak to children at their eye level; eye contact is important in communication.

* Use short words and sentences with very young children; long words and sentences seem to make kids tense.

* Avoid asking open-ended questions; trying to tell it all can cause breakdown in fluency.

* Focus on what the child says, not on how he says it.

"It's really important that parents and other adults avoid making kids feel that fluency is demanded of them," Starkweather says. "Positive verbal responses hel youngsters feel good about talking. And that good feeling is what we're after for all kids."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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