The Park Slope Speech Therapy website describes dysfluency in the following way: “ Disfluency is anything that impedes the forward movement of speech. So, when you stop in mid-sentence and say “Um” or “Er” that is disfluency. Or, if you say, “I want, um, I want that”, that is disfluency. Stuttering differs from disfluency in both quantity and quality. Research indicates that preschoolers tend to be highly disfluent. They back up, repeat words and restate much of the time. In fact, one study found that in a language sample taken from a group of 3 year olds, every third word was repeated. What underlies this high degree of disfluency is the child’s developing language system. In other words, the preschool child is developing vocabulary, grammatical structures and the ability to talk about abstract ideas and events. Because these skills are not yet fully developed, there is a lack of automaticity. The child might struggle to find the word he wants to say or the structure needed (as in past tense ‘ed’) to fully express his idea. So, it appears that for most youngsters, disfluency is part of the developmental process. Now, we call these “normal” disfluencies, not stuttering. So what disfluencies raise a red flag during a speech evaluation? Sound repetitions (b-b-book) or prolongations (sssssoup) are indicative of a possible fluency disorder. Part word repetitions (be-be-because) are also not typical of developmental disfluencies. Remember, we also said quality and quantity. If a child occasionally repeats or prolongs a sound, that should not be a cause for concern.”
In addition the Stuttering Foundation of America describes normal dysfluency in preschool children as occasionally repeating syllables or words once or twice, li-li-like this. Dysfluencies may also include hesitancies and the use of fillers such as “uh”, “er”, “um”. These dysfluencies occur most often between ages one and one-half and five years, and they tend to come and go. They are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning.
So what you can you do if you notice dysfluency with your child?
• Try not to draw attention. In the same way that you wouldn’t correct your child’s pronunciation, don’t draw attention to these repetitions. Just listen attentively and be affirming. Try not to tell your child to relax or slow down.
• Be patient. Give your child your full attention with ample time to express him or herself. Your child will get the idea that he/she doesn’t have to hurry and you are interested in what he/she is saying.
• Slow down yourself. Answer him in a slow, relaxed rate of speech yourself, creating a calm environment in which to share. Use a “Mr. Rogers” voice. By your modeling a slower pace, you can affect his or her rate of speech.
• Don’t finish up. It’s easy for a parent to want to finish a child’s sentence but it is important to let him or her complete the thought. Interrupting is disruptive and will not promote fluency.
• Shorten up. Respond to your child with some shorter, less complex sentences, pausing between phrases.