What is it?
Fluency refers to the smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are said when talking. When a child is not speaking fluently terms like stuttering, stammering or cluttering are often used. A child’s speech may also be disfluent when they are trying to “think of what to say” and are planning the words and sequence of words that they are going to use.
Why is it important?
Speaking fluently is important when relaying information and socialising. The more disfluent speech is, the more difficult it is for the speaker and the listener to engage in the conversation effectively and easily.
Fluent speech is important to get needs and wants met as a young child and to express ideas and thoughts. It can be frustrating for the child who is not fluent when they cannot get their messages across. At school age, having fluent speech is important when reading aloud and answering questions in front of the class and making friendships.
Children between the age of 3-5 generally go through a period of “normal” disfluency. This is usually characterised by easy repetition of whole words and the beginning sounds in words (e.g. “ I I I want a bikkie” etc). This is thought to be due to a child having a “language burst” where they are acquiring new language quickly and need more time to formulate and produce utterances. When it is a normal disfluency, the child tends not to realise they are being disfluent and the disfluencies are not dominating the speech (i.e. there are approximately 5 or less disfluencies occurring per 100 words).
You can tell there are problems with fluency if the child:
- Is showing frustration because they can’t get their words out or talking takes a lot of effort.
- Seems to get stuck on words a lot of the time.
- Repeats sounds, syllables or phrases regularly in their speech.
- Speech is difficult to follow and understand because of lots of stops and starts and lack of “flow”.
- Avoids certain words and/or phrases because they might have difficulty saying them or get stuck on those words.
- Avoids talking because they are having difficulty communicating fluently with others.
- Shows behaviours like foot tapping, blinking, slapping leg, etc. when trying to get word out.
Common challenges for a child with a fluency difficulty:
- It may have significant impact on the intelligibility of a child’s speech.
- It may have an effect on the child’s confidence in speaking situations and it may affect their social skills and how they relate to others.
- It may cause frustration because they cannot “get out” what they want to say.
- It may impact academically at school when required to speak in front of the class.
What can be done to improve fluency difficulties?
- Identifying the nature and the severity of the fluency difficulty through a Speech Pathology Assessment.
- Depending on the nature and the age of the child, implementing a Stuttering Program which will aim to increase the fluency of the child’s speech.
- Ideas and suggestions tailored to the individual needs of the child and their family can be provided to help increase the child’s fluency.
- Liaison with educational staff around the nature of the fluency difficulty and implementation of strategies and ideas to help fluency in the kindergarten or school setting.
Activities and ideas that can improve fluency difficulties:
- Reducing background noise at home (e.g. radio’s, T.V etc).
- Listening to your child when they are speaking, getting face to face and letting them know they have lots of time to get their message across.
- Speaking at a slower rate and pausing regularly when you are talking with your child.
- Trying not to ask too many questions.
- Encouraging all members of the house to take turns when talking together, as children are more likely to be fluent if they are not worried about being interrupted.
- Setting aside a “special time” each day where it is just you and your child talking, playing with a toy, reading a book etc.
- When listening to your child talking, ensuring that you are listening to the content of what they are saying and not how they are saying it. Be aware of not reacting negatively (through facial expression, gesture, getting tense etc.) to any disfluent speech you may hear.
- Even if your child is speaking disfluently (stuttering), trying not to interrupt what they are saying by saying “slow down”, “start again” etc.