Why they stammer

Published On: June 25, 2016 12:25 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

There is no gender bias on who stammers. The important thing is that it’s a curable condition most of the times
I am sure you have seen quite a few children who struggle to speak. Yes, they stammer! Stammering or stuttering is common in all parts of the world. If we look at the statistics, almost 1.5 percent of the world’s population stammers. It can start early, but some get over it and some don’t.

While stammering is perfectly acceptable, it raises some flags, especially if it is accompanied by drooling, which is an early indicator of dyslexia.

According to the science of stammering, it is a difficulty encountered when speaking words that start with letters b, d, g, k, p and t. Sometimes stammering may be accompanied by other symptoms: red face, tremor of the jaw and frequent blinking of eyes when speaking.

I can understand that parents are not on the look-out for these symptoms, but it is always a good idea to know about them. Statistics says that only one out of four who stammer retain it till adulthood. There is no gender preference as to who stammers and who does not but most of the time stammering is curable. Aristotle, Churchill, Darwin, Moses and Rousseau all stammered! I am sure you all know that learning to talk involves the same process as learning to walk. It is never simple and smooth and it takes time. Children often stop, pause looking for words, stumble, and then get stuck on words before they start talking smoothly. Learning to talk is exciting as it enables children to communicate, providing an opportunity to bridge the gap between self and others.

In the process there are plenty of opportunity for children to make mistakes, as conversation is a process of listening, imitating and understanding, creative thinking, and controlled movement and coordination of muscles. Sometimes children get stuck with stammering. This non-fluency may come and go but sometimes it is distressing for parents and frustrating for children. Usually between two and five years, along with the rapid development of new physical and mental skills, it is normal for a child to repeat words and phrases and hesitate with ‘ums’ and ‘er’s’ while deciding on what to say next. Stammering is different from other early speech and language problems. I know you all are curious: Is stammering genetic? Parents, rest assured, you do not cause stammering, that is for sure. Obviously the next question that you are thinking of is: So why do children stammer?

We don’t really know what causes stammering. For many years scientists have been continuously working to find whether there is a reason and a cure for stammering. One thing however is commonly agreed: it is a complicated problem. The reasons for stammering are complex and different for each child. Primarily, psychological factors like loss of confidence in one’s ability to speak, scorn, anxiety, and tense family atmosphere trigger stammering in children.

The other factors could be inability to control muscles of speech organs, obstructions in them, neuromuscular problems and difficulty in the movement of tongue and lips. Last but not the least, it could be a sign of dyslexia. Now the question is: What can be done to correct it? You can do a lot to help your stammering child. Understanding the reason why s/he stammers is the first step to attempting to correct the condition.
You will be surprised to know that only 30 percent of our communication has to do with what we say; 70 percent is body language. I know it sounds odd, but if we think a bit, it makes perfect sense. Conversation is all about being relaxed, smiling, and being focused and interested to have a meaningful dialogue, but if you are distracted, tense or anxious during a conversation, people will not feel comfortable talking with you. If we look the problem in this way, stammering is not a big hurdle in communication. Your body language tells more about you than your speech. Still people would like to get rid of stammering.

All is not lost there are some exercises that your child can do to treat stammering. The general idea of exercise is to strengthen different organs associated with speech. These include tongue, lips, jaws, trachea and lungs. These exercises have worked for many people who stammer, reducing the intensity in some cases and in others completely curing the problem. These exercises prove beneficial if done regularly before bed.  
To start with have your child loudly and clearly pronounce the vowels, A E I O and U. Have your child be overly articulate and distort their face every time s/he utters the vowels. Next is deep breathing exercise that helps to strengthen respiratory organs and relax neuromuscular tension that builds up in the body. This teaches a person to voluntary control the rhythm of words, thus controlling stammering. Reading exercise helps identify patterns of repetition of syllables that cause stammering.

Just make sure to focus on the speed of reading when you are conducting this exercise. Do not focus on wrongly spoken words or stop your child on their wrong pronunciations. Singing is also a very effective exercise for stammering.  

Finally, lifestyle changes do work for stammering. Developing confidence in one’s ability to speak correctly is probably the only real solution to cure stammering. However if the child is diagnosed as dyslectic, than seeking a doctor’s recommendation is a good idea. In the meantime parents should not punish a stammering child. Also, listen closely when your child speaks.

This might help you find areas that need more work. Parents also need to learn to speak slowly, and not interrupt when your child stammers. Be patient and let your child complete their words and sentences without help.

Children’s voices are very important. Hence keep listening to what they are saying and not how they are saying it. Now that is pretty straightforward, right?

The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books


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