|Subject: Six-year-old boy develops a stutter
I hope that you can address a problem that I am
facing with my six-year-old son.
Jon left his familiar preschool for a summer camp
program with older kids last June. A few weeks later he developed
noticeable but minor stutter. After starting kindergarten in the fall,
the problem worsened and has only become even worse with time. The
school speech therapist is a nice but over-worked woman who simply
advised us early in the year to watch and wait. She expected the problem
would go away if we ignored it. Now, after having a comprehensive
evaluation at a local clinic we are being told that Jon is a severe
stutterer who will require speech therapy twice a week - as soon as a
spot in the program becomes available.
The only major thing that happened to Jon when the
stuttering began was leaving his preschool and going to a day camp where
he was one of the younger kids (he had been one of the older children in
preschool). This pattern of being the younger one continued when he
started kindergarten (in our state the kindergarten is in with the
elementary school kids). Of course summer involved a change in routine -
but nothing drastic. We did take a vacation - but it went well and only
lasted a week. Other stresses that could be significant include him
having an older and very verbal sister. She dominates everything -
games, conversation, etc. She has been asked to give Jon an opportunity
to lead once in a while - with some success. Our lives are busy - two
working parents, two school age kids, etc.
No one appears to be pressuring Jon now - he does
well in school and has many friends. He gets a little frustrated by his
speech sometimes but usually he seems unaware of the stuttering. He
knows something is not right, but his personality has not been affected
We have seen the videos that describe how parents
can help, and we have read tons of literature on the subject of
stuttering but nothing really addresses why the child would start to
stutter after speaking so clearly - and nothing offers much reassurance
that he will be O.K. Any encouragement you can offer would be
Home Page is an excellent site. A good place to start would be
Information on Stuttering/Stuttering FAQ.
As for the reassurance you ask for, the good news
is that most children who stutter outgrow it.
Here are the most pertinent paragraphs from the
Stuttering Home Page:
"The question 'What causes stuttering?' is
really two questions, one easy to answer, one hard to answer.
"The easy question is 'What causes stuttering
in adults?' The answer is that we stuttered when we were children. The
speech patterns we learn as children -- accent, grammar, language, etc.
-- become "hard-wired" as our brains grow. An adult stutterer
can learn to talk fluently about as easily as an adult nonstutterer can
learn to speak Chinese.
"Because stuttering develops as a child's
speech and language develops, this disorder is called developmental
stuttering. Developmental stuttering is distinguished from neurogenic
stuttering (caused by strokes and head injuries) and psychogenic
stuttering (caused by psychological trauma).
"The hard question is 'What causes stuttering
in children?' Childhood stuttering looks simple compared to the complex
behaviors of adult stuttering. But while the cause of adult stuttering
is simple, the cause of childhood stuttering is an enigma. Many theories
have been proposed, but none is compelling."
With children, an important factor would be
pressure - regardless of whether it was the initial cause. You might
consider the question of who or what causes Jon to feel pressured to
speak correctly, or pressured to avoid mistakes in general. The other
factors are the feelings of being rushed and of being the focus of undue
attention. Whatever can be done to help him feel relaxed and not
"on the spot" would be beneficial.
If homeschooling can be arranged, that could be
very beneficial, particularly if an unstructured approach were taken. If
this is possible, the books How Children Learn and Teach Your
Own (both by John Holt) would be very useful. With both parents
working, homeschooling may not be possible now, but perhaps might become
a possibility in the future. Even if Jon remains in school, I would
still recommend How Children Learn. This book can be very helpful
in establishing a more relaxed approach to school activities and
Of course, the irony with a situation like
stuttering is that parents and teachers quite naturally become
concerned, and may inadvertently do the very things which may further
the child's feelings of being pressured, rushed, or "on the
spot." The best approach would be for the parents to "let
go", using whatever means they find most helpful to accomplish this
within their own lives (rest, attention to diet, avoidance of stress,
meditation, yoga, and so on.) Otherwise, it can become a vicious cycle
of stuttering - parental worry - child anxiety - stuttering. Remembering
that most stuttering in childhood disappears in time could be helpful in
letting go of worry.
I'd like you to look through the information on
the Stuttering Home Page. After reading it, let me know if you have more