Feb 2020 2nd edition

A stutter needn't be a stumbling block

Written by More Matshediso

Too many people battle with stuttering without knowing that therapy can improve their speech.

A speech-language pathologist at Moses Kotane Hospital in the North West, Gaopalelwe Mogatusi, defines stuttering as a fluency disorder that results in an interruption in the flow of speech.

The disorder is characterised by the repetition of sounds, blocks (no sound is produced), interjections (extra words, such as ‘um’) and prolongations (stretching out a sound for a long time).

Mogatusi said if stuttering impedes your daily activities, such as the ability to communicate or speak with people at work or school, then it is considered a disability.

Adults are harder to treat, she says, so the disorder is best addressed in childhood.

According to Mogatusi, stuttering causes anxiety in most individuals. People who stutter might have low self-esteem or low-confidence in speaking publicly or in large groups.

For instance, children who stutter are usually withdrawn in classrooms and avoid speaking. “This causes feelings of embarrassment and shame.” Parents usually realise that their children stutter from the age of two because that’s when most children start to use language.

“This type of stutter is called normal non-fluency and children can outgrow it. "However, when a child aged between four and six stutters and it lasts for more than six months, it is recommended that a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist be consulted,” says Mogatusi.

What causes stuttering?

Stuttering can be acquired or hereditary. Acquired stuttering is caused by brain trauma or brain injury to the part of the brain that controls speech, whereas hereditary stuttering is passed down from parents or grandparents.

Where to go for therapy

Mogatusi said both private and public healthcare professionals can provide treatment to people who stutter.  Treatment involves speech modification strategies which focus on changing the timing, tension and production of speech.

Whether a stutter can be reduced completely depends on:

  • the severity of the stutter
  • how early therapy is started
  • how committed an individual is to therapy.

“In my profession, I have seen people who have overcome their stutter and managed it really well.” 

She says the good news is that government hospitals now have specialised services such as speech therapy, available to the public for free.

People seeking therapy must visit their local clinic where a doctor or nurse will write a referral letter to a hospital. The patient must then present the letter to a hospital where a speech therapist is based. The speech therapist will conduct a fluency assessment to determine the severity of the stutter, which will guide treatment goals for the individual.

Tips for parents

Mogatusi encouraged parents to acknowledge when their children stutter and provide emotional support to minimise the likelihood of them developing negative reactions.

“If a child is younger than four and a parent notices signs of stuttering, they should not correct the non-fluency as it might be a normal non-fluency. Correcting the child might draw the child’s attention to non-fluency and aggravate it into disfluency,” she explained.

Teachers should learn more about stuttering and help reduce the stigma attached to it.

Tips for teachers to support children who stutter:

  • Address bullying and teasing; classmates should be educated about stuttering and how to treat a person who stutters.
  • Practice oral presentations with the student before class presentations, to boost the student’s confidence.
  • Do not rush lessons because time pressure makes it harder to talk smoothly.
  • Do not react negatively when the student stutters in class by, for example, getting irritated, annoyed or punishing the student for not speaking properly.
  • Do not speak on behalf of the child or interrupt him/her when they are speaking.
  • Always advise parents of students who stutter to see a speech therapist.

Did you know

You can find out from your nearest clinic which hospital in your area has a speech therapist and ask for a referral letter in order to receive therapy.

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