By Kaylyn Christopher
For The Register-Herald
Within the classroom environment, students are often asked to speak in front of their classmates or read passages from their textbooks aloud.
But for a child who deals with stuttering, those tasks may not be so simple.
According to Stacey Fridley, a speech therapist at Blackshere Elementary School in Fairmont, stuttering is a neurological impairment.
“The most recent theory regarding stuttering sites it as a neurological timing disorder where, more or less, there’s a glitch in all of the things we have to coordinate when we speak,” she said.
Unfortunately, stuttering is often thought to be an anxiety or psychological disorder, Fridley added. But it isn’t.
“There are a lot of misconceptions in society about it. There’s a lot of stigmatizing associated with stuttering,” Fridley said. “It’s not at all an anxiety disorder, but it becomes exacerbated from the anxiety that results from its occurrence.”
Nancy Laughlin, a speech therapist at Watson Elementary School, also in Fairmont, said the anxiety that may accompany stuttering creates challenges at school.
“Students become very self-conscious,” Laughlin said. “It can be very debilitating because they don’t want to talk in class, they don’t want to read out loud and they don’t want to answer questions. It also impacts their socialization in the school environment.”
Fridley said only about 1 percent of the population is diagnosed with moderate to severe stuttering, though there may be other cases that are undiagnosed.
Young children may deal with developmental stuttering for a short period of time, Fridley added, but if it persists, parents should consider seeking help.
“It usually appears in children between 2 and 7 years old,” Fridley said. “If it’s true developmental stuttering, it usually lasts less than one year.”
If a child stutters for longer than a year or exhibits some significant symptoms, Fridley said the stuttering may become moderate or severe.
“The things we see happen in their speech are repetition, prolongation of vowel sounds, continuous sounds or a block — where the sound the individual is trying to produce doesn’t come out,” Fridley said.
Luckily, some resources are available that can help.
In addition to the professional help of a speech therapist, there are also practices that parents and families of children who stutter can put into place to try to alleviate the issue.
“Parents can slow down the pace of life in general, slow down their own speech and make sure they don’t interrupt,” Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation, said.
Other tips that Fraser recommended include reducing the number of questions you ask your child, setting aside time each day to give your child undivided attention and making sure all family members take turns talking and listening.
Informational resources are available from the nonprofit Stuttering Foundation. Parents can check with their local library for these resources.
“There are very few places people can find information on stuttering, and most of our information is free,” Fraser said. “There are 8,500 libraries across the country that have one of our books or DVDs because we want the material to be available to people.”
Fridley said sometimes the best things for teachers and parents of children who stutter to do are to have patience and offer support.
“We want to foster a positive attitude,” Fridley said. “We want to let them know that what they have to say is important. Who cares if it takes them one more second to say a word?”
— Kaylyn Christopher is a reporter for the Fairmont Times-West Virginian.