A child with a fluency disorder can feel a lack of confidence, negative emotions toward themselves, and anxiety about speaking. As a caregiver, it can be painful to watch your child struggle emotionally and socially.
With early intervention and extra care taken to support your child’s emotional needs, there is hope for a brighter future.
Let’s explore the emotional toll a fluency disorder can take on a child and discover some tips for helping your child cope.
What is Fluency Disorder?
A fluency disorder is when a person has difficulties speaking fluidly. The person may have trouble with the rate, rhythm, and fluency of speech. This may be in the form of stuttering (when a person says a word part or whole word more than once. This is sometimes called stammering, as well) or cluttering (when a person speaks fast and jams words together).
Oftentimes, a person who has a fluency disorder also struggles with physical tension, speaking avoidance, and secondary mannerisms. Secondary stuttering behaviors include eye blinking, head nodding, tightening of the jaw, and other behaviors used by the child to
People use secondary stuttering behaviors to try to get the words out. These behaviors are a natural response to feeling “stuck” when speaking. However, they can make the stuttering pattern tense, painful, and full of struggle.
According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), children with fluency disorder will have the following symptoms:
Repetitions of sounds or words
Prolongations of consonants
Blocking (inaudible fixations or unable to start a sound)
Physical struggle while producing words
Deleting syllables or word endings
Excessive disfluencies or revisions (filling sentences with lots of “uhs”)
Rapid speech or irregular speech rate
Unusual prosody (This is usually similar to the speech sound of children with autism)
Childhood-onset fluency disorders affect around 5-10% of preschoolers. This communication disorder is caused by both genetic and neurophysiological factors. Children with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, seizures, and learning disorders are at a higher risk of developing a fluency disorder.
Environmental factors can make the disfluency worse. Boys and children with a family history of stuttering are at a higher risk of developing fluency disorders.
Young children may have developmental stuttering. This is when a child’s language skills aren’t developed enough to communicate what they want to say. Most children outgrow this type of stuttering.
How Does Fluency Disorder Affect a Child’s Everyday Life?
The emotional toll of fluency disorders can impact your child’s everyday life from their habits at school to how they act at home.
Children with fluency disorder can suffer secondary effects. Dr. Sander and Dr. Osborne explain in their 2019 publication in American Family Physician that children with fluency disorder often deal with negative self-perception, negative perception by others, anxiety, and depression.
Early childhood intervention for children with fluency disorders is essential. With early intervention, children can receive speech therapy to help develop techniques to overcome their impairment and eliminate secondary behaviors that may be getting in the way.
Children with early intervention may avoid the risk of developing social anxiety, impaired social skills, maladaptive compensatory behaviors, and negative attitudes toward communication.
Yet, even with early intervention, childhood stuttering may persist into adulthood.
Children with fluency disorders are at risk of developing depression. They can begin to associate their self-worth with the ability to communicate. They may begin to feel sad and hopeless.
If you notice your child is showing the following symptoms, according to the CDC, you may want to seek out professional help for your child:
Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable most of the time
Not enjoying fun things
Eating more or less than usual
Sleeping more or less than usual
Acting tired and restless a lot of the time
Difficulty paying attention
Feeling worthless, guilty, or useless
Evidence of self-injury
Depression can sometimes be hard to spot. Young people aren’t always willing to talk about these difficult feelings, especially if they have a language disorder. It is also even more difficult with especially young children who are unable to fully express their emotions in words. So, if you have any suspicions that your child may be dealing with this condition, get them evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Another risk with a speech disorder is for your child to become overwhelmed with the pressure to speak correctly. School and other places where there are speaking situations can be hard for a child who has fluency problems. Your child may even begin to avoid social situations or speaking altogether.
They may also get bullied by other children for the way they speak or inadvertently treated differently for their struggles in speaking fluently. They may feel constant rejection and humiliation. Your child may develop social anxiety due to the pressures of speaking fluently.
Signs of social anxiety include the following:
Trouble catching breath
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Feeling your mind is blank
Young children often show social anxiety through temper tantrums, clinging to caregivers, and refusing to speak in social situations.
If your child shows signs of social anxiety disorder, it is important to contact your healthcare provider to get your child evaluated by a behavior and mental health specialist. A clinician will be able to offer you the support and strategies your child needs to overcome these mental health conditions.
Tips to Help Children with Fluency Disorder Cope
As a caregiver, you want to give your child the best quality of life possible. So, you want to support your child in any way you can, especially if you notice them harboring negative feelings. The following tips can help support your child through the emotional toll of living with a fluency disorder.
#1 Listen To Your Child
It is important for family members and you to show your child support. When your child speaks to you, maintain natural eye contact. This will let them know you are listening and paying attention to their words. Be patient. It may feel quicker or easier to speak for your child or complete their sentence or word. However, this can undermine all the hard work your child is doing.
It is also essential to set aside a time of day when there are minimum distractions so you can focus on your child’s conversation. This will give you to speak one on one with your child about things that are important to him or her.
Giving them this time to speak to you openly regularly will make them more comfortable with talking to you about any feelings of low self-esteem they may have. It lets them have an outlet for their emotions and a low-stakes environment for your child to practice fluent speech.
#2 Model Slower Speaking
This may seem like an odd suggestion, but if you speak slowly, your child usually mirrors that behavior. This helps decrease stuttering. You don’t have to alter the way you speak to your child. You are simply showing them it is ok to take your time when speaking.
Once again, modeling this behavior is great practice for your child. It allows them to become comfortable with slowing down speech before using that skill in real social situations.
#3 Create a Calm Environment
No matter your child’s stuttering severity, an anxious or fast-paced atmosphere will exacerbate the fluency disruptions. Stuttering increases when your child is stressed. It is best to provide a calm environment at home where your child feels comfortable speaking as they are.
This isn’t the case always out in social situations or, for school-aged children, in the classroom setting. Often there are a lot of stimuli that encourage fast, hurried speech in these situations. Yet, if their home is a calm place, this will go a long way in helping them manage their feelings. If the home is their calm and safe space, they will feel more comfortable talking to you about what’s going on in the rest of their lives.
#4 Focus on the Child as a Whole Person
It’s easy to want to help your child fit in. But, focusing on their stuttering can make them more self-conscious. Also, be mindful of situations in which your child may feel pressured to speak. This can increase those feelings of anxiety in your child.
Make sure to praise them for all their hard work, especially when they try a new speaking situation.
Remember that there is so much more to your child than their speaking issue. They can be a great artist or play sports like a pro. Try to focus on the whole child, letting them know that there is so much of them to love and care about.
This will show them that they are more than their stuttering, as well.
#5 Seek Out Support
There are support groups both online and in person for people with speech fluency disorders. It can be good for families of children with a stutter to get together. This can help normalize the condition and allow you to lean on others. It also gives your child a friend with similar hurdles to overcome. Support groups are also great for offering advice and other coping tips. Seeing how others cope with negative feelings can help you develop new strategies for your family.
One of the best ways to support the emotional and physical needs of a child with a fluency disorder is to make sure to get them the evidence-based treatment they need.
First, you will need to get your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). This evaluation will determine whether your child’s fluency disorder is caused by developmental or neurophysiological factors, which influence the treatment approach. Next, the SLP will determine how severe the case is. Then, the clinician can recommend the best treatment plan for your child. There are a few different ways to improve speech fluency in your child.
These treatment options include the following:
Speech therapy: Speech therapy is a regular meeting with an SLP that teaches your child to slow down, notice patterns, and speak more deliberately. With time, natural speech patterns can be achieved in many children.
Electronic devices: Some electronic devices are available for children with speech fluency disorders. They work to enhance fluency through delayed auditory feedback, which makes a child speak slower. There are other types of devices. These can be worn during daily activities but should be recommended by your SLP
Cognitive behavioral therapy: Your child may need to participate in a type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy. This will help identify and change the ways of thinking that make stuttering behaviors worse. This can also help to resolve stress, anxiety, and issues with self-esteem.
Parent-child interaction: Many of the tips mentioned in the section above help with this. A key part of helping your child cope with the emotional toll of stuttering is to offer support and guidance at home. Practicing speaking at home also helps your child become more fluent.
Your child may use some or all of these approaches, based on your child’s individual needs.
Part of the treatment will focus on providing your child with strategies for speaking more fluently, another part will focus on reducing the secondary mannerisms children use to try to overcome the “stuck” feeling they have when stuttering. They will learn to replace these behaviors with strategies that work to help the child speak more fluently.
There is a lot of support available for children with fluency disorders. Getting a diagnosis and treatment plan with a speech-language pathologist, as well as offering your child support at home or with a mental health specialist can ease the emotional toll your child suffers.
If you are looking for a speech-language pathologist to assist your child in becoming more fluent in their speech, RiteCare Clinics offer free services to California residents in 17 locations across the state. Our trained professionals will provide your child with strategies to help increase your child’s fluency. Ritecare Clinics assists children by providing childhood speech-language, literacy, and education programs to improve communication and confidence.