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  • Writer's pictureBailey Levis

Is my preschool child stuttering?

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

Q:  How do you help parents distinguish whether their preschooler is stuttering or whether it’s a developmental disfluency?

This question came in from a colleague and is one that comes up often.  There are really two questions here.

One is from the parent’s perspective,

As a parent of a preschool child, when should I consult with an SLP experienced in working with stuttering?,

and the second is from the SLP’s perspective,

As speech and language pathologists, how do we determine if a preschool child is showing signs of stuttering vs. typical disfluencies?

In this post, we will look at the parent’s perspective.  In Part 2 we’ll address the SLPs perspective.

Parents, when should you consult with an SLP experienced in working with stuttering in preschool aged children?

The simplest answer is any time you are concerned.  If you, the parent, are concerned for any reason, find a speech and language pathologist (SLP) in your area who is either a Board Certified Specialist in Fluency Disorders (BCS-F) or who has experience with and is comfortable assessing and treating stuttering in pre-school aged children (Top 5 questions to ask an SLP about preschool stuttering).  Many SLPs did not receive the training in stuttering they would have liked.  Finding an SLP who is well versed in the complex interplay of the many factors associated with stuttering will provide you and your child the best outcomes.

Contact an SLP if one or more of the following warning flags are present:

  1. Family history: Stuttering has a genetic component and often, but not always, runs in families.  Stuttering in any part of a family tree increases your child’s risk for developing stuttering.  It can be siblings, parents, aunts/uncles, cousins, or grandparents.

  2. Time since onset >6 months: I like to err on the side of caution and suggest beginning treatment if the stuttering-like disfluencies have been present for ~6 months.  If the disfluencies have been present for more than 12 months, your child has an increased risk for developing persistent stuttering.  The earlier you can have your child evaluated by an experienced SLP, the better.  An SLP can either rule out stuttering or make treatment recommendations.

  3. Pattern of change: If the stuttering-like disfluencies have stayed about the same or gotten worse over a period of a couple of months your child is at increased risk for developing stuttering.

  4. Child’s awareness or concern: If your child is showing signs of concern such as changing words, not talking, holding their hand to their mouth, saying things like, “My mouth is broken” or “Why can’t I talk”? your child may be showing signs of frustration which can lead to increased fear and struggle when speaking.

  5. History of delayed speech or language development: If your child is/was a late talker, has had a difficult time learning to pronounce sounds correctly, or if you are concerned that your child isn’t developing speech and language at the same rate as other children his/her age, consulting with an experienced SLP is recommended.

  6. Advanced language skills: If your child has advanced language skills for his/her age, their speech-motor skills may be struggling to keep up with their language skills. An experienced SLP can best support you and your child with this.

  7. Are You Concerned?:  Most importantly, are you concerned?  It doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you.  If you have any concerns whatsoever, contact an SLP experienced with stuttering.  They can help to relieve your concern.  They can provide you with some simple things to do at home, advise you on what to watch for, or recommend an evaluation.  Whatever steps are recommended, speaking with an experienced SLP will help you feel more at ease.  This in turn can help your child feel more at ease about their speech too.

**The information contained in this blog post is not designed to evaluate or assess stuttering.  Please contact a fluency specialist if you have any concerns**

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