Promoting Fluent Speech for Children Who Stutter
by Alexandra Pagel, M.A., CF-SLP
Kids Place West Pediatric Speech and Language Pathologist
You’re staring at a large audience, delivering an important speech. You find yourself starting sentences over, taking long pauses, and repeating parts of words or entire words. You’re nervous and your words just aren’t coming out right. Is that stuttering? To put it simply— no.
Stuttering is a persistent disruption of speech, characterized by part word repetitions (i.e., p-pool), whole word repetitions (i.e., pool-pool-pool), prolongations (i.e., p——-pool), blocks (i.e., I’m going [long pause typically accompanied by tension] to my friend’s house), and often secondary behaviors (i.e., behaviors that accompany the disfluent moments, such as eye blinking, jaw tension, extraneous breathing, etc.).
Whereas someone delivering a speech may experience normal disfluencies, a person who stutters has disfluencies that are characterized by increased severity, a longer duration, potential secondary behaviors, and increased occurrence of disfluencies across a variety of speaking situations. While each child may not present with the same characteristics or the same types of stuttering, there are many tips and strategies you can employ at home regardless of the type of stuttering.
What can I do at home to help my child who stutters?
Slow it down
Model a slow rate of speech, exaggerating prolonging the first word of each sentence as if easing into the word (I—-‘m going to the store). It may take time for you to practice using a slower rate of speech to provide an adequate model for your child, but remembering to begin each sentence with an easy onset will help promote a slower speaking rate.
It may be beneficial to designate a specific time each night to work on using a slower rate of speech with your child and encouraging your child to use “turtle speech.” Modeling this strategy for your child and encouraging him to decrease the pace can help him produce sentences more fluently.
It is important to encourage all family members or people your child interacts with on a regular basis to use a slower rate of speech, to avoid interrupting or attempting to correct your child, and to truly listen while your child takes his full conversational turn.
There is also an app available entitled “Turtle Talk” ($6.99) which shows visual feedback of your child’s pace. Your child can press down each turtle while he produces a phrase or sentence to ensure that he uses an appropriate pace. The app allows you to change the pace and provides various prompts for discussion topics. Alternatively, you can create a “pacing board,” such as using a clean, empty kid’s paint set (such as one that has at least 5 concave circles in a line). Your child can place his index finger in each circle for each 1-2 words of a sentence to practice using a slower rate of speech using a tactile cue to self-monitor his rate.
Many times, children who stutter may have extraneous breathing patterns, such as breathing on inhalation rather than exhalation or taking fewer breaths during a conversational turn than their same-aged peers.
When practicing breathing strategies, try to model taking a deep breath by pausing before the start of a sentence. Encourage your child to do the same, breathing before each natural pause in a sentence or before beginning a new sentence. Encourage him to speak on exhalation rather than inhalation by pausing slightly after taking a breath before speaking (i.e., [breath in, pause] I’m going to a pool party later. [another breath, pause] My friend Kate is coming too).
Use play dough to practice “Stretchy Speech”
You may use playdough with your child as a tactile cue to draw out the words in each sentence. Produce each word in a sentence with a steady rate, drawing out each multisyllabic word, phrase, or sentence while slowly stretching a piece of play dough. Once your child gets the hang of this technique, you may consider using a slightly faster rate to make the sentences more naturalistic.
Allow your child to have the conversational floor
Avoid interrupting your child, telling him to “slow down,” or asking him to say his sentence more clearly. Instead, allow your child to finish his sentence or story and pause for about 3 seconds before beginning your own conversational turn to ensure that your child has finished his turn.
Provide your child with opportunities to take a conversational turn
Participate in back-and-forth conversation with your child and allow him to comment or ask questions in between your own turns. It is important that your child feels he has enough time to say what he wants to say to avoid feeling too rushed. Allow ample time each day for your child to tell you about his day.
Make a schedule for the week
Have a calendar available for your child to look at so that your child knows what plans to expect for the week. Many times, having a calendar or visual schedule with pictures may help your family slow down the pace and help your child be more aware of the expectations and plans for the upcoming week.
Although there are many strategies which you can use at home to help your child, you may find that some work better than others for your lifestyle and for you child. Experiment with what works for you! Don’t hesitate to ask any of our speech therapists if you have any questions!