PARENTING If your child has a stammer, consult a speech pathologist or therapist as early intervention could help overcome the problem

Does your child hesitate before speaking? Does he start to say something and then go back to the first words he said and say them all over again? Does he “um” and “ur”? Does he repeat the word or part of a word, instead of getting on with what he wants to say? Does he speak much too fast and get sentences so muddled up that you cannot follow him? Perhaps you think he stammers or stutters!

All children do some of these things. Some do these much more noticeably and until a later stage than others. Learning to express thoughts in words clearly and fluently is a complicated skill that takes time to develop. One should not be surprised by mistakes and difficulties that occur at times during this process.

Why it occurs

Stuttering or stammering, as it is commonly known, is a disturbance of the normal rhythm of speech which occurs to such a degree or with such frequency that it interferes with communication or causes distress to the speaker or to his audience. Unlike the speech difficulties that are normal in a growing child, there is visible tension in the breathing and speech organs while attempting to articulate. Persons who stutter have difficulty in speaking smoothly. They tend to stop for a while before starting a sentence, they may repeat the beginning sounds of words like “ra- ra- ra ramu is a good boy”, they may deliberate at the beginning of a word like “U-U Uttar Pradesh”, or they may add some sounds like ‘um’ as in “I know um- um you are going home”.

The primary cause of stuttering is genetic but a number of secondary factors such as emotional stress, difficulty in social adjustment, history of delayed speech, familial attitude to non-fluency, too much expectation, or other school-related factors play an important role. Speech, particularly between ages two and six, when it develops quickly, is vulnerable. Upsets of one kind or another may show up in a child’s attempt to speak.

Shock, unhappiness, illness and too much strain may have adverse effects on a child’s speech. It is possible to disturb his speech by asking him questions too frequently, or asking him to “perform” in front of others. This is often done with a child to show off newly learnt words, or to draw attention to his cleverness.

If this is the case, stop asking the child unnecessary questions. Leave him to speak when he wants to. His ability to talk has been unnaturally strained. Several days of rest should restore his normal fluency but take this as a warning not to make such heavy demands on his speech in future.

Some parents are particularly worried about the likelihood of their child stammering if there are such cases in the family. This attitude is justified but make sure that your worries about the possibility of the child “taking after” someone in the family are not passed on to him. Any remark that suggests there is something wrong with the way he is talking, or any expression of anxiety on your face will have the opposite effect to what you wish. The effect of anxiety on speech can be serious and is largely avoidable.

Some parents worry when their child begins to imitate someone who stammers. This is quite a natural reaction of the child to “try out”. There is no great danger in this, provided he hears plenty of normal, fluent speech as well.

Speak in simple sentences

Take care to speak simply and fluently yourself. Try to use short, simple sentences when you talk to your child. Speak slowly. If he has to listen mainly to the quick and complicated speech of adults, he may feel it is not worth his while to try and imitate them because he is bound to fail.

If your child hurries his speech perhaps because other children in the family want to talk at the same time, try to get rid of the need for hurry. Let each child have his turn to speak without the others interrupting. And, of course, give him your full attention whenever possible.

Read aloud to your child or tell him stories. Simple stories with a lot of repetitions can be particularly helpful. Recite rhymes to him and with him so that he becomes familiar with them. It is important that both of you enjoy this. Finally, language development among children depends on what they hear. Children learn to express themselves more easily if they hear plenty of conversation. It is important for adults to talk to them and to talk to each other in front of them.

Early intervention is very important. If left untreated in childhood, stuttering continues into adulthood and interferes with social, academic and occupational success. Consultation with a speech and language pathologist or speech therapist will help as they use a variety of strategies to make speech sound fluent. It is important to remember that stuttering is not usually cured by medication or surgery.

The writer is a Remedial Educator

rajfarida@gmail.com

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