Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Gentle approach helps children who stutter

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Dino was a healthy and smart child but he often withdrew from socialization. At school, friends made fun of him because he stuttered when speaking, while at home he just didn't like the way his parents made him repeat what he was saying until it was said correctly.

Dino was becoming more and more silent and whenever he spoke his parents would make unpleasant remarks. His parents grew impatient with his failure to communicate.

Ki Pranindyo, a speech therapist with the Vacana Mandira speech clinic, said that a person's speech ability is determined by several factors, which include physical, psychological and environmental elements.

He explained that adults or children may have a tendency to stutter or repeat a particular word when speaking.

"This is normal, but many parents get the wrong idea about it and make unpleasant remarks in their attempt to correct it," he said, while warning that such an approach would further aggravate stuttering and in turn discourage a person from communicating.

Pran also added that friends, colleagues, teachers and other people also have a role.

"It's a very discouraging situation for a child or adult to speak if they know that friends or other people will laugh at them," he explained, while adding that this condition could lead to psychological problems.

He said that stuttering usually begins in childhood and rarely in adulthood.

"It can, however, disappear during the teenage years but reoccur in adulthood. We believe that adults with a stuttering problem had similar problems in their childhood."

Stuttering can be differentiated into sound prolongation (like s-s-s-sorry); partial word repetition (like mo-mo-mommy); and word repetition (next ... next ... next year). There is also another type of stuttering condition whereby part of an unrelated word that has nothing to do with what the person is trying to say is used (a-a-a ... how are you?).

He said that normally unaffected people stutter sometimes. If it occurs often it is called normal non-fluency, usually in the form of word repetitions, a form of the condition which stutterers are not usually hampered by.

A more serious form is called primary stuttering, where stutterers repeat part of a word or prolong sounds, but still talk to other people. However, if the environment is not favorable it can worsen into secondary stuttering, in which stutterers often use different words to the ones they want to say and have already withdrawn from daily interaction.

If the stuttering problem becomes uncontrollable, a person is advised to seek professional help.

Pran explained that treatment for stutterers may be multidisciplinary, involving a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist and speech therapist.

"Psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists can handle the physical and emotional aspects of the problem, while a speech therapist can motivate the stutterers to communicate," he said.

Phases of speech therapy comprise of motivating the stutterers to speak, helping them identify the cause of their stuttering problem (such as talking to the opposite sex, to older or respected people, in front of a group of people, or talking on the phone), desensitizing the stutterers to these triggering factors, motivating them to gradually gain the ability to talk while being confronted by the triggering factors, improving their articulation and stabilizing their communication ability.

"They are progressively trained to speak 140 words a minute, like normal people do. But for this they may need to undergo training sessions for breathing to enable them to articulate the phrase properly," he said.

Pran advised parents to adopt a gentle encouraging approach -- such as saying the right words and focusing on the message -- toward children with normal non-fluency tendencies.

"If the parents can deal with their children's stuttering problem wisely, the children will soon regain their self- confidence and be encouraged to improve their ability to communicate," he said.