I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist and I Think My Children Stutter

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stutterWhen I found out I was pregnant with identical twins, my mind went in a million different directions. Would they be ok? Would they be healthy? How would I manage to breastfeed? How early would I have to give birth? Would they have cognitive, motor, or language delays? How would we tell them apart? Those questions entered my head all at once, along with so many others.

As they (and I!) grew, I began getting used to the idea that there were two beings with identical DNA swimming around in my belly, and they were doing just fine. After they were born, we just took life as it came.

But one thing I never considered while my mind was full of all those hypothetical scenarios was that my perfect little 37-week identical twins (who I had no issues telling apart, by the way) could become children who stutter.

According to Dennis Drayna, Ph.D., a researcher for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 5% of people stutter as young children, and about 80% of these people do outgrow it. This leaves about 1% of the general population (which equates to approximately 3 million people in the U.S. and 60 million people worldwide) who continue to stutter into adulthood.

With this many people in the general population who stutter, it is astonishing that it continues to be socially acceptable to make fun of them.

The campaign and subsequent election of President-Elect Joe Biden have brought stuttering into the forefront. And it has been obvious to me from the beginning, particularly with his opponents, that the social stigma attached to stuttering is alive and well in this county.

Something that I don’t think is well understood is that people who stutter have a speech disorder, and that’s all. They don’t have below-average intelligence or language abilities, they don’t have early-onset dementia, and they may work exceptionally hard at suppressing their stuttering. People who stutter learn their triggers and switch words, sentences, communication partners, and sometimes communication situations at the moment to maintain fluent speech.

It’s tough work, and the clients I’ve treated who stutter have expressed how exhausting it can be.

But in my now 10 years of speech-language pathology (SLP) education, work with adult and pediatric clients in graduate school clinic, time spent in schools and hospitals for my practicum work, and over 6 years as an early intervention SLP, I’ve never once seen true stuttering in a 3-year-old. Until now.
 
Some stuttering in early language development is typical. You might notice a child who occasionally has trouble beginning a sentence, repeats the first syllable multiple times, or “trips” over their words. This is generally due to a burst in expressive language and typically lasts anywhere from a few days to a few months. But once we pass the 6-month mark, SLPs tend to get a little concerned.

My girls are way past the 6-month mark; it’s now been a year.

For the past year or so, as my twins’ speech and language have continued to develop, I’ve noticed marked differences in how they talk compared to researched norms and anecdotally in my clients versus how my twins express themselves.

Their grasp of the English language is phenomenal, their grammar is age-appropriate, and their articulation (how they produce speech sounds in words and sentences) is really very good. But their speech is also marked with disfluencies: they cannot get through a sentence or two without stuttering. 

I reached out to several SLP friends and the preschool SLP at the elementary school, both as a colleague and as a concerned parent, and she took the time to go over my concerns. What’s really difficult is that the twins don’t really talk in school (a stark contrast to how they are at home!), so it’s virtually impossible to get any speech sample for her to analyze.

I realize that I may be getting ahead of myself here, as 80% of childhood stuttering really does resolve on its own. This might be a tiny blip in their overall growth and development.

It might not become anything at all. But I also don’t have a crystal ball (much to the dismay of my clients). I don’t know if these early speech difficulties warrant my worry. But as they sit right now, they do warrant my attention.
 
As their parent, I see first hand how difficult it is for my girls to get out a few words in conversation. I’m glad that they don’t seem to have much awareness that this is happening right now.

But as they grow and realize that they speak differently than their friends, I am afraid of how they may be treated.

I hope that we teach our children tolerance and patience, but there are also some really mean people out there. 
 
The best I can do is be on top of this now, continue to have an open dialogue with other professionals, and look at the situation only partially as a therapist. I also need to remember to keep my “mom” hat on. These are my children; they aren’t my clients. 
 
I may be worrying for nothing, but if I were talking to my client, I would say this: “Let’s get out ahead of this. If it turns out to be nothing, that’s great! But we also don’t know if they are in that 1% who will continue stuttering into adulthood. Let’s go over some techniques that you can build into your daily routines that can help your children maintain fluent speech.”
 
Some may argue I’m the perfect person to deal with having children who stutter, and that may be true. But it doesn’t make it any easier to see my children struggle. I need to remember that this may resolve, that I have the proper supports in place, and I love my children, no matter what happens in their future. 

I guess the Beatles had it right when they sang, “All you need is love.” And my girls certainly have plenty of that.

Remember: Some stuttering is typical in a child’s language development. If you notice your child is stuttering, The Stuttering Foundation has some tips on what to do. I’ve listed some of them here:

  1. Try to model slow and relaxed speech when talking to your child, and encourage other family members to do the same.
  2. When your child talks to you or asks you a question, try to pause a second or so before you answer. This will help make talking to your child less hurried, more relaxed.
  3. Try not to be upset or annoyed when stuttering increases. Your child is doing [their] best as [they] cope with learning many new skills all at the same time.
  4. Effortless repetitions or prolongations of sounds are the healthiest forms of stuttering. Anything that helps your child stutter like this instead of stuttering tensely or avoiding words is helping.
  5. If your child is frustrated or upset at times when [their] stuttering is worse, reassure [them]. Some children respond well to hearing, “I know it’s hard to talk at times…but lots of people get stuck on words…it’s ok.” Other children are most reassured by a touch or a hug when they seem frustrated.

These tips were taken directly from The Stuttering Foundation. For further information about stuttering, please visit their website.

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charity
Charity is originally from CT, but grew up in New Hampshire. She returned to CT in 2000 for college, and currently resides in Monroe with her husband (married in 2011) and three children (A son born in 2012 and identical twin daughters born in 2017). Charity works part time as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the CT Birth to Three system. She thinks it's the best of both worlds because she gets to work in a job she loves (and needs to pay off those hefty grad school loans!) and be home a few days a week with her children. Charity enjoys theatre, and brings her son often. She's also a big fan of coffee, reality TV, and essential oils. You can follow her personal blog at: www.coldfoodandcarpools.wordpress.com.

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