“M-m-m-m-m-mummy…” she starts. It’s obviously frustrating for her and quite painful to watch. My instinct has been to wait and let her finish rather than jumping in, but my goodness, it’s so hard to watch her trying to talk.
This started a few months back and it was a surprise to her. After trying to say something, she’d look up and say “I can’t talk!” with a puzzled expression. We tried to reassure her. The stammer went away.
But now it’s back. It’s been going on for a little while and I’ve not wanted to make a big deal of it. This time she doesn’t seem to have expressed any frustration – I don’t know if it’s all internalised, or just isn’t bothering her at all. But not wanting to watch her struggling with her speech in this way I looked up a few facts. Action for Stammering Children has a very good website with resources for children, teens, teachers, parents and therapists. Here’s what I learned:
- Stammering is part of development for around 5% children and in most cases they grow out of it.
- Girls grow out of it better than boys; boys are more vulnerable to stammering
- Getting early help can make a difference
There’s no obvious cause. Researchers have been looking into heredity and stress reasons but there are a range of possibles and they may vary for each child.
E’s speech has not followed standard development. At her two-year check up the health visitor was concerned that she didn’t say anything and wanted to send her to a speech therapist which I refused. A few weeks later she started to talk and all was fine. These days she also makes gibberish noises instead of talking which drives both of us mad. Being followed around by someone groaning “yawp!” instead of answering questions is pretty frustrating and we have both admonished her, asking her to talk properly. But now I wonder if this is related to the stammering. She has no trouble when she talks nonsense.
I spoke to nursery about the stammer. They have not seen her doing this, so it may be something she only does at home. But they also report that she is quiet at nursery and doesn’t necessarily talk as much as the other children. In this, she takes after her parents.
Of course, hearing that she only does it at home piles the guilt on; though research suggests stammering isn’t related to stress in younger children, you still associate it with something people do when they’re unhappy. Having said that, nursery also said when she does talk, she has a complex vocabulary and they have no concerns. So this could all be part of normal development for someone who is learning to communicate big thoughts. The Action for Children website backs this up as one of the possible causes.
It’s all a little confusing. The website says that even if your child displays some speech difficulties they may not have a full blown stammer. They also say early help can be best to clear it up quickly. Despite this, I’m torn as to whether I should take her for professional help in case this upsets her or make her think she’s not right. She tends to dwell on things and remember them for a while afterwards (again, a bad trait I’ve passed onto her) so I don’t want to worry her, but on the other hand I want to help.
What can you do if you’re a parent of a stammering child? Help is available. You can see your GP though the NHS speech services will take self referrals too. Action for Stammering Children have a centre in London. Otherwise, they recommend:
- Focus on what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it
- Keep to good food and sleep routines
- Don’t interrupt or try to finish their sentences
- Don’t tell them to slow down, instead try and lead by example by reading to them and speaking to them slowly
- Try not to look for signs that they are getting worse as it will make you and them anxious. Instead focus on things they do well. (E has started making up fabulous stories, for example, and is more independent in tasks. Also good at sharing.)
- Try to slow down altogether – the fast pace of modern life can have an effect
- Have a short calm, relaxed one on one session to chat with no pressure.
For now, I’m trying to monitor when it occurs so I feel more knowledgeable about it, I’m trying to be more patient with her nonsense talk and I’m slowing down. We now have more leisurely breakfasts than rushy ones (see previous blog post) and I may instigate a day where we don’t do much (maybe Saturday). It’s also good practice for my reading, which can be quite rushed, as part of my natural reading style. And reading through the website again, I think I will also contact the speech and language service.