Montreal Children’s Speech-Language Pathologists encourage early intervention for stuttering

Treat the stuttering, improve a child’s sense of self
—Leetal Cuperman, MCH Speech-Language Pathologist

October 22 is National Stuttering Awareness Day and this year Speech-Language Pathologists at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) of the MUHC want people to know that the earlier a child undergoes therapy for stuttering, the better the results in the long term. One significant consequence of early intervention: a dose of self-confidence that will last a lifetime.

“I was diagnosed at the age of 5 with stuttering,” says Leetal Cuperman, who today is a Speech-Language Pathologist at the MCH. “I did therapy on and off as a child, but nothing significant enough to improve my speech. Up until the age of 20—when I finally took an intensive course to help manage my stuttering—I suffered from low self-confidence because of the way I spoke. It definitely impeded my life. For one, I always wanted to be in a school play, but my stuttering held me back.”

Treat the stuttering, improve a child’s sense of self, Ms. Cuperman maintains.

Stuttering is when fluency of speech is impaired. Sometimes it involves a repetition of words (ex. I am, I am, I am cold), or sounds being prolonged (ex. mmmmmmom). If one lives with stuttering for a long time without therapy other behaviours can also develop, such as not making eye contact when speaking with someone, hitting of a leg to get a word out, or avoiding using words that the person knows will make him or her stutter. When she stutters, Ms. Cuperman finds it difficult to make eye contact and she admits to sometimes avoiding certain words.

Stuttering often emerges between the ages of two and five, usually at the same time language develops. It is genetic in 60 per cent of cases. In Ms. Cuperman’s family, her brother and mother stuttered. And the ratio of boys to girls who stutter is 4:1. Physically, stuttering is a problem in coordinating breathing (respiration) with turning on the voice (phonation) and pronouncing sounds (articulation). It is not caused by personality factors such as shyness or nervousness or “thinking too fast.”

“Sometimes young kids will stutter temporarily,” says Ms. Cuperman. “But if the stuttering lasts for six or more months it may remain so don’t play the wait and see game. Consult a Speech-Language Pathologist as soon as possible.”

The Speech-Language Pathology team at the MCH does occasionally provide short-term therapy for children as well as give strategies and tips to families on how to interact with a child who stutters. “We also direct families who come to us with a child who stutters to rehabilitation centres that provide intensive therapy,” says Julie Savaria, clinical coordinator of the Speech and Language Department at The Children’s.

Some key strategies and tips the MCH gives to their families include:
  • be a good listener (get down to your child’s level, make eye contact, let your child finish sentences and avoid supplying words your child is missing, explain to your child if you are in a rush, listen to what he says, not how he says it, avoid saying things like: take your time or think about what you are going to say before speaking)
  • when talking to your child use a slow model of speech; modeling speech; if you take your time, he or she will
  • it’s normal to have good and bad days. If your child is having a good day, give your child lots of opportunity to talk (ex. With puppet games, describing pictures). If he/she is having a bad day, do more non-verbal activities to take the pressure off.
  • If your child is younger than 5, it is expected that he/she will make mistakes. Avoid having him/her repeat the message if you understood it. Simply repeat the message back in the correct form.
  • If you have more than one child, establish talking rules to be respected by all members of the family.
  • If your child is concerned about his/her speech, reassure him/her that there are many times that he/she speaks well and that we all have hesitations in our speech.
Ms. Cuperman and Ms. Savaria also want to make people with children who stutter aware of one more thing: a recent article that appeared in The Montreal Gazette seemed to suggest a link between bilingualism and stuttering. “Based on the kids we see we don’t see the correlation between stuttering and multilingualism; some kids simply stutter more than others,” says Ms. Cuperman. “We don’t want people to think that if they cut one language it will stop their child from stuttering. In the end, no matter how many languages your child speaks, he/she will need therapy from a Speech-Language Pathologist if stuttering is present.”

If you suspect your child stutters, you can call l’Ordre des orthophonistes et des audiologistes du Québec at 514 282-9123 to direct you to the appropriate rehabilitation centre or to assist you in obtaining a listing of private speech-language pathologists specializing in stuttering.

Parents may also contact:
l'Association des Jeunes Bègues du Québec : 514 388-8455