Speech Therapy for Children
Preschoolers vs. School-aged children
Different approaches are recommended depending on the age of your child. Many children stutter when they are first learning to talk, starting as young as two years old. For about 80% it is a passing phase. However it is not recommended to ignore the stuttering even at this stage, as there is no way of knowing if the problem will persist for the child. Studies have found that treatment at this age can increase the recovery rate in a sample group of pre-school children who are stuttering. There are a few different evidence-based approaches.
The Lidcombe Program has been very successful in treating pre-school aged children. This is a behavioral therapy that parents are trained to administer, involving positive feedback for fluent speech, and gentle prompts for correction of stuttered speech. For information about Lidcombe practitioners in Canada, please see the Montreal Fluency Centre info page.
The Demands and Capacities approach focuses more on secondary behaviours and involve changing the environment of the child to make him more comfortable, talking slowly to him, not drawing attention to the stuttering - it is more indirect and covert, but is still therapy. There is a concise explanation of these approaches here. Both approaches have helped children.
Another alternative is the Palin PCI (Parent-Child Interaction) therapy. Although developed in Great Britain, some SLPs in Canada are trained to administer it as well.
If a child is still stuttering by age 7-8, it will be a more persistent condition, perhaps into adulthood. This is no cause for alarm. A child can benefit greatly from speech therapy which may, at this stage, feature cognitive approaches and coping techniques, and encourage self-acceptance. In other words, fluency may not be the only goal of the therapy. Parents can initiate conversation and self-expression in the family setting, which will help a child deal with his stuttering and life in general. Finding ways for the child to be engaged in life, whether through sports, artistic endeavours or whatever interests him, can also help greatly.
The Stuttering Foundation has materials for parents of children who stutter here.
There are many speech and language pathologists and specialist therapy for children and teens who stutter in Canada. Speech pathology is a broad field, ensure that your child's therapist has had experience in treating stuttering in particular, and has worked with children. After an assessment, the therapist will discuss a treatment plan with you and realistic goal-setting.
The involvement and support of the whole family will provide valuable support and help to make the activities done in the therapy sessions feel like a part of life, not something done only once a week. Children of all ages can learn to reduce their stuttering and develop their ability to communicate well. Specialist help is available in three settings.
1. One-to-one sessions with a speech and language pathologist (SLP). Sessions are usually once per week or two, for several months. Therapy will be adapted to the age of your child and will help them to learn simple fluency techniques and manage their feelings and reactions when they stutter.
See the Speech-Language and Audiology Canada website for information on how to find a specialist speech and language therapist.
2. Your school board. Specialist therapy might be available through the public school system in your area (coordinated through a school board). Each province and region is different, and availability varies. For primary and middle schools, speak with your child’s teacher to find out what help is available. In secondary school s, the guidance teacher or equivalent is the best person to contact for additional support.
3. Intensive courses for one-two weeks during school holidays. These involve several hours a day working with a small team of therapists and other children who stutter. There are courses in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.