Why it is normal for some children below 5 years to stammer

IT is commonly believed that stuttering does not seriously affect young children. But children who stutter are very sensitive to how others react when they speak. Many children who stutter are bullied; many are withdrawn from social situations when other children and adults do not have the patience to listen to what they have to say.

But not all children are the same. Some stutter for one or two years without being aware of it or experiencing negative reactions. But for other children, the negative experiences start immediately. Studies of adults who stutter show that their negative experiences could result in a poorer quality of life and social isolation.

Stuttering is all about non-fluent speech and of all the speech disorders, it is the most difficult to treat because every child will go through that normal non-fluency stage, said Professor Dunni Arulogun, a speech expert at the Faculty of Public Health, University of Ibadan.

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Normal non-fluency is the process of speech development because speech is by learning; it is what the child hears us speak that is what the child will imitate.

“That is why it is said that shuttering sometimes runs in the family; it is not because it is genetic but because that is the pattern the child was exposed to. It is the same reason people make jest of people who are stuttering,” she added.

Professor Arulogun, however, added that stuttering is usually a childhood problem and commoner in boys than girls.

“Usually stuttering is a developmental part of speech. Girls develop speech faster than the boys for obvious reasons. For instance, toys for girls are such that the girls will talk, sing or do role play with.  The toys we buy for the boys do not involve much of talking when playing.

“So the girls develop speech faster than the boys but boys catch up later. So you find it more in boys but for children under five years, it will resolved on its own.”

However, Professor Arulogun declared that since every child will pass through shutter as a phase in the process of speech development, it is difficult to not know which child will transit to be a confirmed stutterer.

It is commonly believed that stuttering does not seriously affect young children. A study, however, showed that this is not usually the case because children are very sensitive to how others react when they speak.

The meta-analysis of all the available research on studies of the communication attitudes and thinking of children who stutter found that children who stutter struggle more with negative thoughts about the way, they talk than other children.

According to her, through most children would outgrow it, the few children that continue to stutter  may be due to environmental and biological factors.

She stated: “So when we see a child who stutters, it is good that they bring the child for an assessment. But the first treatment that we advocate is preventing the child from knowing that he or she stutters. We need to help them not to be conscious that they shutter.”

Once a child becomes conscious that he stutters, no matter how old the child is, he becomes a confirmed stutterer. So, the idea is to do an indirect therapy. We leave the child and treat the parents or adults around the child.

Parents are warned against shutting him up, making fun of him and so on to prevent the child from becoming conscious of that non-fluency of speech and hence becoming a chronic shutter at that stage.

Ironically, in the whole world nobody has a fluent speech. “Everyone has just mastered how to fill in the gap. Sometimes, you say ‘em em, okay, you see, what I mean,’ all those are filling in the gap or our non-fluency. Nobody has a fluent speech,” she added.

Treating children that are chronic stutters require another form of therapy. This will initially require a full understanding of when it started, what precipitates it and its causes.

Some stuttering happens when the child is about talking and once they start to talk, it eases off. Emotional situations sometimes aggravate stuttering in some individuals, too.

However, stuttering is of different types. It can be a repetition of certain words or certain syllabus; it can be the person merely halting his speech.

Professor Arulogun stated that there is no need to shout, scold, beat, stigmatise or make a jest of a child who shutters. “the moment you do and the child realizes it, the child becomes a stammer for life.

“So it is a lot of education, if you have a child that is under 5 years of age that shows this sign, please leave the child alone because overtime he or she will outgrow it. 90 per cent of them outgrows it.

Nonetheless, she pointed out that some cases of stuttering are related to problems in the brain, especially from a traumatic experience. Those that are psychogenic are sudden.

“I remembered a psychogenic case, the boy born abroad was brought back to Nigeria. Even though he wanted to go back, his parents refused. As a result, he stopped talking,” she added.

Ironically, sudden onset of stuttering in adults, Professor Arulogun stated may be suggestive that something is wrong in the brain like a stroke.

Researchers do not know why some people outgrow stuttering and others do not. They also do not know for sure why some develop a stutter in the first place, although numerous studies have pointed to several reasons.

Neuroscience shows that the brain function and structure of people who stutter differs from people who do not have a stutter. But since these studies have only considered adults, it is hard to tell if these neurological differences are a consequence of stuttering or the cause of it.

It’s rare for adults who stutter to outgrow stuttering. But many of them can learn to speak with much less tension and energy. A lot of adults get better at managing their stuttering in more situations. And many achieve more control and security.

Research shows that most approaches work, but we just have to figure out what’s helpful for a given individual. But the correct speech therapy combined with exposure therapy is the treatment that has proven to be the most effective.