The Lidcombe Program for Treating Stuttering During the Critical Period of Speech Development

Steven’s Story

When Steven was three years old, he started developing a slight stutter. His parents assumed that it was probably an emotional condition due to the passing of his aunt (his main caregiver) and moving to a new city – both events that transpired in the same year. They chose to ignore the stutter and instead showered Steven with love and adoration, believing that this would help him get over the recent events and let go of his newly acquired speech difficulty.

Unfortunately, even after a year and half had passed, Steven’s condition only worsened. His stutter became hard to miss, as he rarely was able to finish a sentence without it becoming obvious. His parents became very worried about the problem and decided to seek professional help.

The speech-language pathologist suggested a treatment plan based on the Lidcombe Program, which would keep Steven’s parents highly involved in the process. Since Steven’s parents were now eager to address the stutter, they were committed to work with Steven to see change. However, they neither had the resources nor the knowledge to figure out where or how to begin.

Fortunately, the speech-language pathologist was patient and worked with Steven’s parents on the Lidcombe Program for a few months. Over time, Steven began to show significant improvement, and until now, he remains in the program in order to maintain the progress made and continue to improve.

What are the characteristics of stuttering?

Stuttering, also called ‘stammering’ in the UK, is one of the most common speech disorders. It can take many forms which disrupt the normal flow of speech – such as the prolongation or repetition of certain syllabuses, sounds of words or ‘blocks’ in speech when the person is momentarily unable to produce a sound. For example, a child may say “B-b-b-b-but I want to go to the party” or “Aaaaaask her to say a joke.”

Some children who stutter get really frustrated that they are unable to speak properly. If the child is very young, s/he may not yet be aware that there is a problem with his/her speech. However, over time, the child will inevitably start to notice the stutter.

Until recently, stuttering was misconceived to be a psychological disorder, and parents were often misadvised to ignore it so it can go away. In the case study above, Steven’s parents initially assumed that Steven was having trouble with his speech because he was feeling upset and disturbed. This theory has been disproven and there is overwhelming evidence that suggests that early intervention leads to the best possible outcome.

What is the Lidcombe Program?

First developed in Sydney during the 1980s, the Lidcombe program is a scientifically-backed and well-researched program that has been used in recent years to effectively help children overcome stuttering. Although research has shown that it is most successful with preschoolers (under six years old), school-aged children could also benefit from the program. This success with younger children is likely because the condition is addressed during the ‘critical period’ of the child’s life, during which s/he most readily absorbs new material and is able to correct a newly acquired habit.

The Lidcombe Program is unique in that the treatment is actually implemented directly by the parents, and conducted under a speech-language pathologist’s close supervision. A certified speech therapist consults the concerned parents on the methods of recognizing children who stutter, assessing the severity and measuring the durations of the dysfluencies, using positive reinforcement during stutter-free speech, gently prodding the child to correct himself or herself when s/he stutters, and providing guidance and support for the child throughout the entire process.

Because the program is administered in the comfort of the home – which is where the child does most of the talking– it has a high rate of success. Under the guidance of the licensed speech therapist, the parents can learn to “measure” the stuttering accurately. In the beginning of treatment, structured parental feedback is encouraged: the parents are told to praise the child when s/he doesn’t stutter and to gently tell the child to self-correct when s/he does. Over time, after the child has become comfortable with the technique, parental feedback is introduced into daily interaction and is more fluid. By this time, the treatment should begin to show substantial results.

Chicago Speech Therapy Supports the Lidcombe Program

We look forward to working closely with parents who are eager to find a solution to their child’s stuttering, and are determined to help him or her overcome this speech disorder.