After watching last night’s finale of The Voice, I just couldn’t go past writing about the topic of stuttering which has been at the forefront of most press surrounding the amazing singer that won this year. For any of you who weren’t one of the 2.3 million people that tuned in to watch the finale, this year’s winner was well deserving of the title. Harrison Craig, an 18 year old singer from Melbourne captured the nation, not only with his stunning voice but with his gentle and endearing personality. When we were first introduced to Harrison early on in the series, I’m sure I was not the only person sitting on the couch moved to tears by his performance quite simply because here was a young man living out his dreams on national television having spent many years behind the scenes battling with what can be an extremely debilitating speech disorder-stuttering. Having worked as a paediatric speech pathologist for 15 years, I have seen many children and adolescents who just like Harrison suffer from this motor speech disorder.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering or dysfluency is a type of motor speech disorder. It can start suddenly or can evolve gradually over time.
What causes it?
Stuttering occurs when sounds, syllables and words are repeated and/or prolonged which disrupt the normal flow of speech. Stuttering is not believed to be caused by anxiety; stress; an unexpected event or experience. It is believed, however, that certain environmental factors can make a child’s stutter better or worse. There is strong evidence that stuttering runs in families.
Who is most often affected?
Stuttering occurs most often in children between the ages of 2-5 years. Boys are twice more likely than girls to stutter. Other research has even found the ratio can be as high as 5:1. Many children may outgrow stuttering on their own but others will require intervention from a speech and language pathologist. Approximately 1% of the adult population stutter.
What are the characteristics of stuttering?
Stuttering has some unusual characteristics that can make treatment of the disorder challenging. One of the most frustrating aspects of stuttering is that it is “cyclical in nature”. What that means is that every child who stutters will have periods where their stutter is severe and periods where it will appear to have gone away. This can be confusing as there can be a tendency to assume that the stutter has gone away for good and most of the time this will not be the case. Stuttering can show some or all of the following behaviours.
- Word repetition (eg. “and, “and”)
- Syllable repetition (eg. “ba ba baby)
- Sound repetition (eg. “c c cat)
- Sound prolongations (eg. “s…….snake”)
- Blocking (can be silent, where the child appears to be searching/groping for the words)
- Use of fillers/hesitations (eg. Use of “um”; “and” “er”)
- Sometimes physical movements such as rapid eye blinking, head jerking or lip tremors
Can stuttering be cured?
There is no known cure for stuttering however there a variety of excellent treatments available. One consensus across experts in the field is that early intervention is the best time to reduce stuttering. Strongest research suggests that the best program for early stuttering intervention (children under 6 years) is the Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering Intervention. There has been much success with this program for school aged children as well. For adolescents and adults the technique of teaching Prolonged Smooth Speech has resulted in many positive changes in fluency.
Could my child be stuttering?
Many children particularly between the ages of 2-3 years where their language rapidly develops will often demonstrate periods of stuttering/dysfluency. Normal dysfluency is often characterised by sound, syllable and word repetition. It does not often include sound prolongations, blocking or other physical behaviours.
If your child demonstrates the above stuttering behaviours, has been stuttering for longer than 3-6 months, or if you have a family history of stuttering, then it is recommended that you seek advice from a speech and language pathologist. Your speech and language pathologist will be able to determine if your child requires intervention to treat their stuttering or if they will most likely grow out of it.
Harrison’s success throughout the show which I am sure will only continue to now grow to amazing heights, highlighted stuttering on a global scale. It certainly highlighted the many daily communication challenges those who stutter are faced with, but more importantly it showed everyone out there, that having a speech or communication disorder should not stop you from pursuing your dreams.
Kath Keiper is the co-creator of three beautiful children who while driving her crazy, make her laugh everyday. Having been a paediatric speech pathologist for over 15 years, Kath has also spent her life dedicated to helping children and families. Through her career Kath has been fortunate to speak at varying events such as the World Autism Congress and Speech Pathology Australia. Being able to make a positive difference in many children and families lives has always been Kath’s highlight. Her love of helping children, making a difference and performing, have also been the driving force behind the creation of her first DVD for children “Can you sound like me?”