Speech problems in children
The highly acclaimed film ‘The King’s Speech’ has put stammerers in the media spotlight and it is a remarkable, true story. I was gripped by Colin Firth’s performance of King George VI, who overcame his speech difficulties to become a monarch at a time of war, after his brother abdicated. George VI’s progress was admirable, particularly when his life as King revolved around public speaking.
There are many celebrity stammerers who, having overcome the condition, can inspire those struggling with speech disorders. Pop Idol’s Gareth Gates, famously overcame his stammer and has now trained in the McGuire method, which helped him control his stammer. BBC Newsround’s Hayley Cutts, also used to stammer and now works as a successful reporter and presenter. Other famous celebrities, reported to have had a stammer, include Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Tiger Woods. They have all shown that a speech impediment does not have to interfere with your aspirations.
The film and recent interviews with Gareth Gates, all touch on the torment of having a stammer and when you are young, bullying can be a real problem at a school. In an interview with BBC Berkshire, the chair of the the British Stammering Association (BSA) said that about 60% of school age children who stammer are bullied. If your child is being bullied because of a speech impediment, check out their school’s anti-bullying policy. Encourage your child to do activities that will give them confidence, such as singing, in which stammering shouldn’t be a problem. This is because you use a different part of the brain to sing.
However, provision for help with speech therapy for older children and adults is not always available. In a UK survey, carried out by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in November 2010, of the 159 respondents, 84% had been asked to reduce their services, with cuts of up to 30%. The college has launched a campaign, Giving Voice, to persuade decision-makers to safeguard early screening and guarantee access to therapy for all children who need it.
My youngest two children are twins and have been having speech therapy, since they were two and a half. They mispronounce consonants mainly ‘s’, ’f’ and ‘th’. It is more common for twins to have speech problems. No one really knows why this is, although experts have come up with lots of different reasons. The NHS were only able to provide six sessions with a speech therapist and although they benefited greatly from the help of an expert, the hard work really has to be done at home.
Speech disorders and difficulties are relatively common in this country. According to the charity Talking Point, over one million children have speech language and communication needs. The BSA say that 1% of adults stammer, whilst around 5% of children will suffer from stammering. In general, men are four times more likely to stammer than women. With young children, if you spot signs of any speech problem, the advice is to find a speech and language therapist as soon as possible.
Last February, the BBC reported a scientific study that identified three genes, which may cause stammering in some people. The BSA welcomed the discovery, saying that it proves the cause behind stammering is physiological. They hope it will help identify the problem earlier in children, as early intervention is key to helping them have fluent speech.
The good news is that children can grow out of having speech problems, though some may need extra help to improve their speech and language skills. For example, lisping can just be a stage a child goes through, but if the problem persists, you should seek advice. Speakability, the BSA and Talking Point are all organisations that can give advice to the parents of children with speech difficulties. Another good resource is Speech Teach UK.
As I have discovered with my twins, it is worth putting in the effort to overcome speech problems. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your child grow in confidence, as their speech starts to flow more easily.
Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.
Take a look at BBC News Education & Family article - Parents 'wrongly blamed for speech problems'.