Channeling Mr. Rogers - Or How to Talk to my Stuttering Child
Although I’m not a person who stutters, I clearly remember an incident in my childhood when I was disfluent. Developmental disfluency is occasionally repeating words and syllables as opposed to more frequent and severe true stuttering. It gives me a little window into the world of children who start to stutter and I’m grateful that I was old enough to remember it.
I was about six or seven years old at the time. I would come to breakfast and pour milk on my Cheerios, then immediately need to go to the bathroom. This was bad because I hated soggy Cheerios, and the time it would take to go to the bathroom might be enough to make them soggy. But even worse, I was worried about someone taking my seat at the kitchen table while I was gone. (I have no idea why this worried me. We had enough seats for everyone.) So I would try to tell my older sisters not to take my seat while I was gone, but with the pressure on my bladder, the pressure of worrying about soggy cereal, and the pressure of worrying about someone taking my seat, I began to stutter. I simply couldn’t get my message out, which was bad because now I was sure to have soggy cereal. I would finally have to give up and run for the bathroom. I don’t know how long this went on, but I remember being called “Stutter Butter” at least once. The situation resolved itself—perhaps I learned to go to the bathroom before pouring milk on my Cheerios—and I don’t remember ever stuttering again.
Many children go through a period called developmental disfluency, as they are learning to use language in new and more complex ways. Developmental disfluency usually comes and goes and is most common between the ages of 1 ½ to 5. While I was older when I went through this disfluent episode, I wasn’t truly stuttering. If I had been disfluent throughout the day, showed considerable effort and tension when speaking, or continued to worsen, then I might have developed a stutter. Time was the contributing factor in my case--my perception that I didn’t have enough time to communicate.
Parents who are concerned about either developmental disfluency or stuttering can help ease their children’s communication struggles by letting them know they have enough time to listen to them. Not only enough time, but enough attention to be fully in the moment with them, is communication at its best. In our age of handheld electronic devices, it is easy to think you can listen to someone else and look at your phone at the same time. But you can’t look in their eyes and read their body language if your attention is divided. In the stuttering intervention world Mr. Rogers is a role model. He spoke with slow and relaxed speech and paused after asking questions. What the disfluent or stuttering child needs is really what every child needs—some of your undivided time and attention plus your confidence in their ability to communicate.
If you have questions about whether your child needs to see a speech-language pathologist for stuttering this FAQ page from The Stuttering Foundation of America is helpful. And if your child does need to see a speech-language pathologist, we would be honored if you would consider us.
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