by Lisa A. Scott, Ph.D.

Q: How can you tell if your child has a stuttering problem?
A: If your child has been stuttering for only a few days or weeks, it’s very alarming but it is probably best to wait to see how the stuttering changes. Waiting a month or two does not seem to affect how well your child will respond to later treatment and you might be surprised at how quickly the stuttering goes away.

However, if the stuttering has persisted for longer than two months, is getting worse instead of better, or went away and is back again, we recommend that parents complete the Risk Factor chart. If 2 or more of those factors are true for your child, contact a speech-language pathologist to find out whether your child should be screened.

Q: What can parents do to help?
A: The first thing you can do to help your child is to get information about stuttering. The more informed you are, the more you will be able to make decisions about your child’s needs. There are many materials and resources available on this website, or you can call 1-800-992-9392 or click here to request more information.

If you have decided you would like your child to be screened for a stuttering problem, call either your local school district to find out about speech screenings or the local hospital; also, check the Stuttering Foundation’s free referral list of speech-language pathologists around the country who specialize in stuttering. A third recommendation is to make a daily rating of your child’s stuttering, on a scale of 1 – 10, with a 1 = no stuttering that day, and 10 = the worst stuttering you have ever heard. This rating can be made on the family calendar or in a planner if you keep one. That way, you can see over time whether the stuttering is getting any better, and if there are any circumstances (e.g., stuttering is worse on the weekends, when your child is out of a normal daily routine) that will help you understand what factors might be contributing to changes in stuttering.

Finally, if your child shows signs of frustration or of being aware of the stuttering, it’s perfectly ok to say, “Wow, some words are hard to say, aren’t they! Sometimes my words are hard to say too,” or make a comment about how sometimes when we’re learning things, it takes some practice. It’s ok to acknowledge if your child is struggling and it’s important that you let your child know this is normal when learning new skills. Try not to make a big deal out of it and don’t let your child believe that it is bad to stutter. The essential message should be that it’s just the way words come out sometimes and that’s ok. We’re just learning new words and how to say them.

Q: When should you get professional help for a stuttering child?
A: If your child has been stuttering 3-6 months and is older than age 3, it’s a good idea to have your child’s speech and language skills evaluated. Even if you and the speech- language pathologist decide that therapy isn’t needed at this time, you now have a baseline example of your child’s communication skills that you can compare back to later. If your child is still stuttering a year after you first noticed it, speech therapy may be needed. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not uncommon for older children to take a break from therapy at times. For older children, therapy is probably needed if your child is showing reluctance to participate in the classroom, having difficulty interacting with peers, or the stuttering is getting in the way of your child completing regular classroom activities like show-and-tell or giving a book report.

Q: What does professional therapy involve?
A: Professional therapy for stuttering usually involves helping your child learn an easier way to talk, and then learning to use these skills in many different places (at home, at school). It should also involve helping your child become the best communicator possible, including being a good listener and not interrupting. There is no known cure for stuttering, but we have our best success with children who come to therapy while they are still young and have not learned that talking can be hard or a negative experience. In addition, even though we might not “cure” the problem, we can always help the child learn to manage his stuttering in a way that will help him be confident and willing to share his ideas, whenever and wherever he wants to share them.