Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Elul 5759 - August 25, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Prevention and Treatment of Stammering
by A. Ross, M.Ed. in Education and Speech

Generally speaking, adults who have an established stammer can learn to control the problem with the right kind of help and guidance, but they rarely overcome it completely. Not so the young child. Children who stammer can be helped and many do recover normal fluent speech.

The first thing for parents to do is to note, and write down, when the stammer is worse and when it is better. Inexplicably, most stammerers have good patches and bad. These can last hours, days or even weeks and no one seems to know quite why it happens. Nevertheless, if we can identify the situations which seem to increase the stammer, it will provide us with guidelines for which situations to avoid. The list could read something like this:

When tired, when excited, playing outside, when one particular relative comes, when he gets smacked, when child is forbidden to do something.

In order to deal with the various situations, we will have to treat this child differently from the others for a while. Try to avoid late nights, and don't take the child shopping straight after nursery, although it might be far more convenient. Avoid excitement at bedtime, as this tends to keep children awake, and try to play down exciting events. This is difficult in a large family where one often builds up excitement for an upcoming yom tov or simcha, for example.

If the child is determined to play outside, we might increase the stammer even more by trying to stop him (forbidding him to do something). But if we suggest an alternative such as inviting just one or two friends into the house to play, we may succeed in avoiding this particular situation for a while.

Why he should stammer when a particular relative comes may seem a mystery. But if you watch carefully, the cause will usually become apparent. One mother reported that an aunt used to keep the children guessing as to whether she had brought them anything, and what it was she had brought. The excitement and tension increased the stammer.

Punitive spanking is not appropriate in most cases, anyway, and it isn't too difficult to substitute it with a withdrawal of a privilege, with an accompanying explanation. The removal of these pressures greatly improves the stammer, but does not cure it completely.

Apart from your own personal list of things which increase the stammer, asking questions puts a definite pressure on the child's speech. When you ask a question, you expect a reply. Thus, the avoidance of asking questions at a time when we are trying to eliminate the stammer is, maybe, the most important part of the treatment.

Mothers don't realize at all how many questions they ask the children, all the time. Have you had a nice day? Did you eat your whole sandwich? What did you do today? Is Yankele better? Was he in school today? Did you bring anything home? Shall we go shopping? Do you want a drink? It is exceedingly difficult for a parent to change this [but so is it difficult for a child to get rid of a stammer], and well worth the trouble.

You can't stop asking questions altogether. But for a few weeks, try rephrasing these questions into statements. It will still show that you take an interest in your child, but you will not expect a reply. I had a nice day; I hope you did, too. You must have been hungry at recess because you hardly had any breakfast. You look as if you did painting today. I didn't see Yankele; I hope he's better. Here, have a drink. A nod can be a sufficient reply.

You may be surprised at the results. Many children, not only the ones with a stammer, answer `nothing special' when asked what they did in school, or shrug their shoulders without volunteering any further information. The less you ask, the more they seem to want to talk! But, as we said, this is the most difficult part of the change in our approach.

It takes about two weeks to get used to a question-free conversation. But it will take several months for the stammer to disappear completely.

One additional point: try to discipline the child a little less than you normally would. General discipline is necessary, but it must be consistent and based on reason. Lack of discipline, inconsistent discipline and unreasonable discipline lead to emotional frustration that causes or increases a stammer. It is essential that parents have the same rules, otherwise the child will play off one against the other and once again, feel insecure.

Then there is discipline of speech, itself. We have to include things like "Don't talk so much. Stop asking questions. Don't say that, it's rude." The standards vary in each home. Discipline of speech should be dropped for this child for a while, and re-introduced gradually when there has been no stammer at all for six months.

Parents who go for professional help often complain that the speech therapist does nothing except play games with the child. That is about the only thing she wants to do as therapy. Remove pressure from speech and the stammer will improve. As we said at the outset, most stammers go away of their own accord. If your child is one with a persistent stammer, try all the above strategies for a few months, and hopefully, the stammer will disappear.

[Upcoming: Dyslexia, the Real Thing]


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