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Parents should not panic if their preschool child is stuttering.  It can be overcome with medical attention or therapy.

When a preschool child starts to stutter, parents often become worried and are confused about what to do.  Stuttering is a speech disorder, in which the normal smoothness of speech is disrupted, says Dr. Tracy Milbrandt, assistant professor of pediatrics at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.  She explains stuttering.

SOUND BITE:   “. . . Stuttering is either repeating or hesitating, or prolongation of words or the inability to start a sentence.”  “Usually the onset of stuttering does occur during childhood and most commonly between the ages of 2 and 5.” 

Stuttering usually begins when the child is progressing from using two and three word phrases to actually speaking in complete sentences or putting several sentences together.  She says it is caused by problems with sensory and motor development.   So part of the brain and the muscles are not moving fast enough to produce fluent speech.  Dr. Milbrandt has some recommendations for parents. 

SOUND BITE:  “We do recommend that a speech language therapist can help with techniques to help manage stuttering.  Also for parents of children who stutter, we do have some recommendations like telling their child to speak in an unhurried way, themselves speaking in an unhurried way to their child . . .”

Dr. Milbrandt advises parents to avoid criticizing or instructing a child how to speak because that can make the stuttering even worse.  If stuttering problems have continued for six weeks or more, she recommends seeing a pediatrician or speech therapist for evaluation and possible treatment.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.