Q: I worry that my daughter, who is in preschool, may have a stuttering problem. She repeats syllables. Her preschool teacher says it's normal and she'll outgrow it, but I don't want to take that chance. Should I get her tested?
A: When deciding whether or not to have your child evaluated by a speech therapist, the first step is to become well informed. One good place to start is The Stuttering Foundation's website, stutteringhelp.org.
There you'll find explanations for speech characteristics of mild to severe stutters, practical tips and risk factors. The website lists the following:
-- Family history.
-- Age of onset: Kids who stutter before age 3 1/2 are more likely to outgrow stuttering.
-- Time since onset: Between 75 and 80 percent of all children who stutter will begin to show improvement within 12 to 24 months without speech therapy.
-- Gender: Girls are more likely than boys to outgrow stuttering.
-- Other speech and language factors. Does your daughter make frequent speech errors such as substituting one sound for another or leaving sounds out of words?
Your daughter may be what experts call "normally disfluent" -- in other words, she's learning to use new words and building her oral language skills. Many children work through periods of normal disfluency in their preschool years.
Experts with The Stuttering Foundation advise that you should observe patiently, model slower and relaxed speech (think Mr. Rogers), and give your daughter focused, one-on-one time daily to build her confidence in speaking.
These disfluencies occur most often between the ages of 1 to 1 1/2 and 5, and they tend to come and go, says Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation and co-author of "If Your Child Stutters: A Guide for Parents" (The Stuttering Foundation, 2010). "If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, your daughter may just be going through another stage of learning.
"We always counsel early intervention as the best treatment for stuttering. If you are very concerned about your child, put your mind at ease by visiting with a speech-language pathologist trained in working with children who stutter."
Fraser advises parents not to be upset or annoyed when stuttering increases. "Your daughter is doing her best as she copes with learning many new skills all at the same time. A patient, accepting attitude will help immensely."
Reassurance often helps. "Some children respond well to hearing, 'I know it's hard to talk at times ... but lots of people get stuck on words ... it's OK,'" says Fraser. "Other children are reassured by a touch or a hug when they seem frustrated."
If your daughter stutters on more than 10 percent of her speech, stutters with considerable effort and tension, or avoids stuttering by changing words and using extra sounds to get started, she will profit from having therapy with a specialist in stuttering, advises Fraser.
To find a therapist in your area, visit the following: stutteringhelp.org/referrals-information.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)