A child’s speech typically goes through a gradual process to achieve fluency.
As they learn new words, many children are hesitant in their speech.
This hesitation involves how to pronounce sounds and how to string words into sentences.
Such stumbling over sounds and words is a natural part of the process of learning to talk. They, therefore, appear to stammer.
Such dysfluencies at that stage of their speech development are often normal. With time, children’s speech begins to be more fluent.
It must be noted, however, that even the ‘typical’ adult speaker does not always have fluent speech although there is a distinct difference between normal non-fluencies found in adult speech and those found in most children as they learn to talk.
Stammering is defined as a condition that makes it physically hard to speak. Another name for stammering is ‘stuttering’.
It is yet uncertain what causes stammering, but it is known that family history of stammering, underlying speech and language needs and being a male may play a part.
Children stammer often, repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words. For some children, there might also be visible signs of the tension involved in talking such as blinking their eyes, stamping their feet or tapping something.
Research shows that about five per cent of children start to stammer and one per cent of whom continue to stammer into adult life.
More boys than girls tend to stammer. Stammering affects every ethnicity and does not affect a person’s intellectual ability.
Every person who stammers experiences stammering differently in terms of the degree.
Certain situations tend to trigger more stammering than others and this often differs from person to person.
• Allow children who stammer enough time to respond to questions. Allow at least 25 per cent extra time during oral tasks.
• Avoid making fun of children when they block on words or prolong words or repeat them. It affects their confidence.
• Success should not be measured by quick responses or fluency.
• Find out from children who stammer what they are comfortable with. E.g. a choice not to read in front of class.
• Create a group aimed at building the confidence level of children who stammer.
• Educate staff on stammering and the adjustments to be made to support children who stammer.
• Staff must be able to identify and support children who stammer.
• Engage the services of speech and language therapists to support children who stammer in your school.
Criticising and making fun of children who stammer creates a hostile environment which impacts their relationships with others, choice of career, confidence, emotions, well-being and quality of life.