Childhood Communication Consultancy (CCC) specialises in assessing and treating children ages 0-19 years old with speech, fluency, language, listening, literacy, learning and/or social communication difficulties. As a child develops speech and language skills, he/she typically may have some periods of non-fluent speech. As processing occurs in listening to the incoming information, followed by holding it in the working memory, and then retrieving the words and grammatical structures to formulate a response some pausing/thinking time or breakdown can occur. This can also be at the point of co-ordinating all these aspects mentioned with respiration (breathing), phonation (making sounds) and articulation to make the actual words. What is said dysfluently is fed back to the ear and that feedback is then processed. Both non – fluent episodes and stammering can occur initially between 2 to 6 years of age. If the child has a stammer, it will persist as they get older; in cases of non-fluent speaking, as the child matures there is recovery to fluency.
Stammering has been highlighted in the media recently through the film: ‘The King’s Speech’. Of special note is the psychodynamic relationship between the King George VI and his Speech therapist, whereby the King learns strategies to cope and become a ‘fluent stammerer’ enabling him to deliver his addresses to the nation. This film has struck a chord with many people; approximately 5 to 6 percent of the population have stammered or stammer. In older children and adults, more males than females stammer. Some other famous people who have stammered or are stammers are: Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Rowan Atkinson, and Bruce Willis.
There does appear to be a familial link with stammering, however environmental factors can play a part too. The specific cause of stammering is unknown but there are a number of different theories:
a) learning theory – that the stammer is a learned behaviour b) linguistic theory – relating to particular words in sentences c) psychological theory – relating to anxiety (there are often issues as a result of the stammer) d) organic theory – genetic transmission or motor speech problems i.e. disrupted feedback in motor planning for speech.
The way we talk with our volume, rate, clarity, intonation and fluency makes up a significant 38% of our communication. People who are dysfluent or stammer have speech “characterised by stoppages and disruptions in fluency which interrupt the smooth flow and timing of speech. These stoppages may take the form of repetitions of sounds, syllables or words, or of prolongations of sounds so that words seem to be stretched out, and can involve silent blocking of the airflow of speech when no sound is heard” (Enderby, 1996). People with stammers often avoid particular words, situations or try to hide their stammer. As it is difficult to cope with, it can have negative psychological consequences if left untreated. Stammering may be worse when: talking on the telephone; talking to a group of strangers; answering a specific question; speaking to an authority figure; speaking in a stressful situation; when one is more emotional or tired. However it can be better when: speaking in a new way i.e. changing accent, voice, speed etc; speaking in unison; reading or singing (for some people); feeling relaxed.
Although there is no known cure for stammering, there can be great improvements in gaining and maintaining mostly fluent speech. Speech and language therapy may include counseling, fluency-enhancing strategies, stammering modification techniques, relaxation, anxiety control and developing social communication skills
Jacqui is also an Authorised Provider of The Listening Program www.thelisteningprogram.com and she is trained in Talk Tools www.talktools.net to develop the motor programmes for speech. She also does the Visualising and Verbalising program by N.Bell.
Stammering can usually be successfully treated from 2 years old to 19 years old. Please contact Jacqui if you have any concerns about your child’s non-fluent speech or stammering.