Stuttering in Childhood: Early Intervention Is Important

by Team Stamurai

Stuttering in children can begin when they are as young as 22 months old. The incidence of stuttering in preschool-aged children is almost as high as 5%.

More than 76% of the children who begin stuttering at an early age recover spontaneously.

There are several speech-language pathologists, speech therapists, and pediatricians who are of the opinion that early childhood stuttering does not need intervention due to its high probability of natural resolution.

That, however, begs the question, how do we know if the child will recover spontaneously or they will be a part of the 24% who grow up with a stutter for life.

Why Should You Seek Early Intervention For Your Child Who Stutters?

As per the research of Anne Smith and Christine Weber, recent studies provide evidence that children as young as 3 to 5 years old with early-onset stuttering begin showing atypical patterns of neural connectivity and activity that are characteristic of stuttering.

In families with a history of stuttering, there’s  high likelihood that children who begin stuttering as early as 22 months to 3 years may continue to do so as adults. However, there is no guarantee that they will not spontaneously recover especially if one parent has no history of stuttering in their family.

Stuttering can become a reason for emotional distress among children soon after onset.

  1. Other children recognize stuttered speech. They may react negatively to speech disfluencies, resulting in isolation and emotional agony of the child who stutters.
  2. Researchers have observed and measured negative attitudes among children as young as 3 years to 6 years old during communication with those who stutter.
  3. By the time children who stutter are 7 years old, their attitude towards communication worsens.
  4. Facing bullying at school and playgrounds can result in severe anxiety disorders later in life. School-aged children who stutter often face more bullying as compared to their peers.
  5. Recurring negative perceptions concerning communication can make it difficult to form  relationships later in life.

Research by Robin Jones, Dahye Choi, Edward Conture, and Tedra Walden shows that children who stutter exhibit significant differences in overall emotion and temperament as compared to children who don’t stutter.

Not treating it when the child is young can result in the persistence of stuttering in adulthood. Stuttering can attract psychological, educational, occupational, and social problems. Therefore, the management of childhood stuttering should begin as early as possible.

What Are The Advantages Of Early Intervention Of Stuttering In Children?

Treating stuttering in adolescence and adulthood can be challenging. Apart from speech therapy, the treatment demands concomitant behavioral therapy or psychological counseling sessions to address anxiety and stress.

At the same time, speech therapy for adults can be costly, time-consuming, and prone to relapse.

According to multiple speech-language pathologists and leading researchers in the field of speech pathology, the Lidcombe Program is one of the most efficient treatment programs for toddlers and young kids.

The first thing to do if you notice disfluencies in your child’s speech is to consult a speech-language pathologist.

Only an expert can assess your child’s speech and tell you -

  • Whether immediate intervention is necessary.
  • Or, if you should wait a couple of months before intervening.

If you notice your child stutter, it’s important that you seek professional help. Finding the right speech therapist is not always easy. You can use a cutting-edge speech therapy app like Stamurai to contact a speech therapist and gain a preliminary understanding of your child’s stuttering severity.

What is the Lidcombe Program?

The Lidcombe Program is a behavioral treatment targeted at children who stutter.

The Lidcombe treatment guide is now easily available over the web. Parents and guardians can easily use operant conditioning principles for guiding their children towards a stutter-free future.

During this program, parents don’t try to change how their children speak. At the same time, parents don’t change their pattern of speaking or language habits. There is no change in family lifestyle.

  1. Operant conditioning principles include praises when the child speaks fluently without stuttering. The parent offers verbal contingencies during practice sessions and natural conversations with the child.
  2. Occasionally, they may request the child to repeat themselves in case of particularly-strong stuttering. However, there should be no criticism. They may ask questions like “was that smooth?” or “could you say that for me again please?”
  3. Parents should also measure their child’s stuttering severity with a severity rating (SR) that ranges from 0 to 9.
  4. The parent(s) or guardian(s) visit the clinician every week for around 45 to 60 minutes. They learn how to conduct the treatment properly and report the outcomes.

The first stage of the Lidcombe program focuses on  training the parent on

  • How to recognize stuttering
  • How to note the severity
  • Organizing the conversations that aid treatment
  • Giving (verbal) positive reinforcement.

Here, the goal is to achieve an SR of 0 or 1.

The second stage involves the goal of ‘no stuttering for a prolonged duration.

How is Early Stuttering Intervention Helpful for Children?

Most children who begin stuttering at an early age outgrow it without any external help. However, a small percentage of children continue to stutter for longer than 2 years post-onset. These are the same children who are at high risk for adulthood stuttering.

During the onset, it is impossible to tell who will recover spontaneously and who will need speech therapy intervention.

Teaching speech exercises to children is difficult and it may prove to be counterintuitive to their natural language development.

The Lidcombe Program is one of the best, proven techniques for treating stuttering in pre-school-aged children. It is an indirect method that uses verbal positive reinforcement and operant conditioning principles for addressing early developmental stuttering in children.

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