by Lori Melnitsky, MA CCC-SLP
Homework, tests, acne, and dating are stressful enough for teenagers. Imagine on top of that not being able to easily say your name or confidently ask a question in class. It’s no wonder teenagers don’t want to deal with issues as devastating as stuttering.
Stuttering is characterized as a disruption in the normal flow of speech fluency. A person who stutters might prolong sounds, repeat whole or parts of words or use filler words, such as um, like, uh. Sometimes a person who stutters opens their mouth to say a word and nothing comes out. They might also display secondary characteristics such as eye blinking or kicking their leg to force a word out. Many people who stutter will substitute words, or say as little as possible to avoid talking. Many students will often choose to say “I don’t know” in class rather than risk stuttering. Others will select an undesired food item at a restaurant because it is easier for them to say. When such avoidance tactics are used, it leads to feelings of fear and isolation.
Stuttering is a communication disorder that affects over 3 million people in the United States. Its exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be physiological in nature. The good news is that many people have overcome the challenges of stuttering through speech therapy, hard work and persistence. Speech therapy can teach specific fluency tools and support groups can help overcome feelings of isolation. It takes continuous practice with specific drills to learn how to speak without tension. The teen years often produce increasing motivational factors that encourage teenagers to seek out improvement in fluency. These include dating, participating in class, trying out for school plays and making new friends.
There are several important things family members can do while listening to their child’s dysfluent speech pattern. It is important for parents and family members to listen to what their child says rather than how it is said, not interrupt, and not say “slow down” or “relax and take a deep breath”. Although this advice is given with good intention, it can actually exacerbate stuttering. Also, if your child isn’t using the fluency tools taught to them, it might be due to feelings of embarrassment and fears of being perceived as different. The Stuttering Foundation of America (www.stutteringhelp.org) and National Stuttering Association (www.westutter.org) are excellent online resources for teenagers and their families.
Parents need to realize that even though their child may not be “cured”, there is help available through speech therapy, practice groups and support groups. It is however, important to seek out a therapist who specializes in stuttering treatment. If your child has received speech therapy previously and did not appear to make progress, don’t despair. Many people who eventually improved their fluency felt they were not initially helped in the past. Why? It’s possible the therapist you saw did not specialize in stuttering therapy. Also, there are different approaches to stuttering treatment and you may not have found the one that works best for you and your child. Finding the appropriate therapist is often a difficult task. Although the tools your child learns might appear simple to use, they are often quite difficult to apply in conversational speaking situations. Truthfully, therapy is often stopped too quickly without adequate time allotted for maintenance. It takes a skilled therapist to work with your child in transferring newly learned skills into everyday speaking situations.
Teenagers often become increasingly motivated to seek out speech therapy due to the realization that effective communication skills are needed to succeed in academic, work and social settings. Realistically, it takes determination, motivation and continuous practice to improve fluency!! It is vital to seek out a speech pathologist that specializes in stuttering treatment.
For more information, please contact Lori Melnitsky. Lori is a speech language pathologist (SLP) who stuttered severely as a child and overcame communication obstacles to become a stuttering specilialist. She is the chapter leader of TWST (Teens who Stutter-National Stuttering Association) and founder of the LI Stuttering Connection (a practice group for people who stutter). Lori is in private practice in Plainview, NY and treats children and adults who stutter as well as other speech and language disorders. She is Lidcombe Trained and PROMPT Certified. Lori can be contacted at 516-776-0184 or via e-mail: Lori@allislandspeech.com (www.allislandspeech.com)