|Subject: Six-year-old boy develops a stutter
I hope that you can address a problem that I am facing with my
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 yet.
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 appreciated.
Home Page is an excellent site. A good place to start would be Information on
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
"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
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 assignments.
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 specific questions.