A mother posted a question to a group recently about her 3-year-old child’s stuttering. Response after response encouraged her to just wait it out because “lots of children stutter, then they outgrow it.” Other respondents shared stories of their own children who stuttered and then recovered. Still others admonished the parent to “not draw attention to it,” and others said simply, “he’s too young.”
I was concerned in reading these responses because they simply are no longer considered to be best practice by specialists in the field.
Certainly, it is true that most young children who start to stutter do indeed recover completely—on their own, without formal intervention. As many as 75% to 80% of kids who start to stutter will resolve and go on to develop typically fluent speech. That's the reason that so many people have these anecdotal stories about how their kids got better when they didn't do anything, did XYZ treatment approach, or whatever. Put simply, most do recover, no matter what you do. So, that's good news.
Here's where it gets a bit tough: The high recovery rate can lead people to continue to say not to do anything about it even when that is not the safest course of action. The reason is that we don't know *which* children will recover on their own and which children will go on to develop persistent stuttering.
Therefore, and I can't state this strongly enough, blanket statements about "don't worry about it" or "just wait" or whatever simply aren't the right answer.
Instead, we need to try to determine whether the child is at elevated risk for continuing to stutter *before* making any type of recommendation about what to do (and that includes making recommendations for specific therapy approaches). Fortunately, we have a ton of research that gives us important insights into a child's risk for continuing to stutter.
Thus, the first thing to do is to carefully consider whether your child is at elevated risk for continuing to stutter.
If he is not at elevated risk, then it is completely fine to monitor the situation for a time—though I wouldn’t do this without providing the parents with counseling and guidance about what to watch for in case the need for therapy becomes more apparent.
If, on the other hand, there is any sign of elevated risk, then the safest course is to take action sooner rather than later.
I’ve addressed risk assessment in other blog posts, so I won’t reiterate it here. For today, my goal is to remind people that “wait and see” is only rarely (if ever) the right answer.
Even if the child’s risk for continuing to stutter is relatively low, the parent was still concerned about something. It is our job to help them—and there is much that we can do to accomplish this. For (lots) more details, see Early Childhood Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide.