Stuttering disrupts the way you speak and often makes it difficult for you to finish a sentence. People who stutter often struggle to sound out a word, or constantly interrupt their thoughts with an “um" or an “uh." Stuttering starts during childhood, between the ages of two and five, and approximately 4-5% of these children grow up with a lifelong speech impediment.
Because stuttering starts in childhood, parents should be aware of the potential for bullying and teasing. In previous studies, adults who stutter have reported that their condition has had long-lasting, damaging effects on their lives. In the June 2014 Journal of Fluency Disorders, Dr. Lisa Iverach published an article raising awareness over the impact of stuttering in children on adolescent and adult social anxiety disorder.
Changing the Way We Understand Stuttering
Stuttering is often dismissed as a bad habit that kids grow out of. Iverach wants to change this understanding of the condition because studies show that stuttering causes social anxiety in children and adults.
One of the main characteristics of social anxiety is the fear of negative evaluation, or the fear of being judged. Iverach writes, “Children and adolescents who stutter may be the targets of bullying, not only as a result of their stuttering, but also in response to their displays of anxiety and nervousness."
The reality of the matter is that kids pick on each other for the smallest things, and unfortunately, having a speech impediment is often grounds for bullying. Parents should learn to look for signs of bullying as well as educate themselves on appropriate solutions.
Speech Classes or Therapy?
Children who stutter are usually enrolled in speech classes to correct their condition. However, Iverach believes that “although treatments designed to reduce stuttering may also decrease anxiety, standard speech treatment for stuttering is often regarded as having limited impact on speech-related fears and social anxiety." Speech classes alone cannot help children deal with the anxiety and emotional hurdles that come hand-in-hand with their condition.
If your child is afraid of talking because of their stuttering problem, then they might just stop talking completely in order to avoid being bullied. The ridicule and judgment that your child may face lays the foundation for problematic coping methods such as avoidance. The social anxiety and fear of judgment goes beyond correcting speech. There is a psychological facet of stuttering that needs to be addressed.
Previous studies show that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) may be useful in reducing social anxieties and lifting emotional burdens in stuttering children. Speech classes work to improve the way your child speaks and may eliminate the issue altogether over time. But stuttering doesn't disappear after one class. It takes a lot of hard work, and your child may be self conscious of how long it's taking. That's why parents should also find a therapist to help their children learn how to deal with his or her speech anxieties. “This collaboration may assist in reducing social anxiety before it becomes a chronic, lifelong problem, and may also contribute to the improvement of treatment outcomes for people who stutter," says Iverach.
Dr. Iverach's PSA
Iverach hopes that her audience understands the effect stuttering has on social anxiety. “Assessment and treatment of social anxiety disorder in stuttering is critical," emphasizes Iverach. If your child stutters, be sure to look for signs of social anxiety. Treating adolescent social anxiety as soon as possible lessens the chances of chronic anxiety later in life.
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Lisa Iverach, Ronald M. Rapee. Social anxiety disorder and stuttering: Current status and future directions. Journal of Fluency Disorders 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jfludis.2013.08.003
Date of original publication: June 16, 2014
Updated: October 23, 2015