What is stuttering?
Stuttering, also termed ‘stammering’ in the UK, is a disorder characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, such as prolonged or repeated syllables, or ‘blocks’ in speech during which the individual is unable to produce a sound for a few seconds. It often begins in childhood and can leave lasting effects on a child’s confidence and communication skills if not treated early.
Scientific studies have shown that stuttering is a physiological disorder, and not a psychological one, as most people have assumed in the past. Essentially, the problem lies neither in comprehension barriers nor in an emotional response, but in a neurological disconnect between the language-producing part of the brain and the speech muscles which verbalize this language.
Treatment for Stuttering
Luckily, there are several effective treatment options available to help this speech disorder. Early intervention is crucial because the child during the ‘critical phase’ of development can more easily absorb corrections in speech discussed during therapy than a grown person would. While treatment at any age is better than no treatment at all, the youngest children benefit most from speech therapy sessions.
Most treatments fall under the “behavioral therapy” umbrella, as they require children to work with a speech therapist on changing incorrect speech behaviors. Several treatment options include helping children to:
- Control/monitor rate of speech
- Begin word production at a slower rate and in a less tense manner
- Control and monitor breathing
- Practice smooth and fluent speech at a much slower rate than typical
- Use short phrases and sentences
With the help of a speech-language pathologist and the above interventions, over time, children can learn to communicate effectively using smoother and faster speech and longer sentences. To accomplish this, follow up and maintenance therapy sessions are often necessary after initial intervention, in order to prevent relapse. When all the above steps are taken, childhood stuttering can be eliminated so that speech sounds both fluent and natural.