Speech is something most of us take for granted. Speech is essential to communication. Speech is one of the main ways we communicate with those around us. It should develop naturally. Speech and language disorders are common in preschool children. Some children and adults have speech problems. Medically, if you have speech problems, you have a disorder. A speech disorder is a condition in which a person has problems creating or forming the speech sounds needed to communicate with others.
Stuttering is a speech disorder characterized by the repetition of sounds, syllables or words. I had a speech impediment. I did not form words. It took a few years before I was properly diagnosed and got the help I needed to develop socially and mentally. I know the isolation that a speech impediment can cause. I was lucky to have a diagnosis that led me to consult a speech therapist. I graduated from college, spent years in radio and television, and have been writing for newspapers for 40 years. An uncorrected speech impediment can hamper a child’s mental and physical development.
Stuttering is a speech disorder that involves frequent and significant problems with the normal fluency and rate of speech. three million Americans stutter. Stuttering affects people of all ages. It most often occurs in children between the ages of 2 and 6 as they develop language skills. About 5-10% of all children will stutter at some point in their lives. It can last from a few weeks to several years. Men are two to three times more likely to stutter than women, and as they age, this gender difference increases. The number of men who continue to stutter is three to four times greater than the number of women. Most children will grow out of stuttering. Seventy-five percent of children will recover from stuttering. The other 25% can stutter for life.
Contrary to popular belief, stuttering is not caused by psychological problems, emotional trauma, or stress. Stress can make the situation worse, but the underlying causes are thought to involve genetics, as well as factors such as neurophysiology. Almost 60% of children who stutter have a family member with the same problem.
Most people who stutter can benefit from treatment, patience, support and love. This is the combination that worked for me. Treatment can be a combination of several therapies. These therapies may include:
Fluidity shaping therapy. Patients work with a speech therapist to correct some of the pitfalls that can lead to stuttering. For example, speaking too quickly or trying to say too much. It’s easier to speak fluently when you slow down and use shorter sentences. A common technique used in public speaking is to break a speech down into groups of three or four words and allow time for pauses. This technique is called pause and phrasing.
Stuttering modification therapy. This therapy, combined with fluency shaping, is not intended to eliminate stuttering. It helps a child overcome a stutter as it occurs. With this therapy, when a stutter is imminent, children stop talking for a moment to release the tension in their lips, breathe normally and then start talking again.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy. With cognitive behavioral therapy, a person can predict the worst thing that can happen in a feared situation, such as being ridiculed for ordering a meal or answering a question at school. In this therapy, the child and the therapist work together to test the prediction in some way, such as by answering a question in class and paying attention to the reactions of others. Once the child experiences the worst he imagines, it usually doesn’t come true. This will make it easier to deal with other dreaded situations.
Medication. A number of medications have been reported to reduce stuttering. One of these drugs is alprazolam (Xanax), an anxiolytic. Also included are citalopram (Celexa), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and clomipramine (Anafranil), another highly serotonergic drug.
If your child has a language or speech development problem, talk to your primary health care provider about an assessment. Your primary health care provider will refer you to a language development specialist. This specialist will assess your child to determine what type of language or speech problem your child may have.
If your child has specific learning disabilities, including language or speech disabilities, you are entitled to special education services or accommodations at school under the Disabilities Act in education (IDEA).
There is no simple cure for stuttering. People who stutter can learn to speak more easily, feel better about themselves, and speak and communicate more effectively. Even the President of the United States had a speech impediment as a child. You can do your part when you provide patience, support, and love.
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