Q: My child is 3 ½ and started stuttering. Is this common? What should I do?

A: Parents are often concerned when a child starts stuttering. Dealing with stuttering starts with having the facts, and getting a professional assessment of what is going on. Fact: For some children stuttering happens when learning to talk. For many, the stuttering will naturally resolve. For some, however, it does not. That’s why early identification is key. Be especially mindful if your child starts avoiding activities, is frustrated with speaking, or is getting teased: These could be signs your child is starting to feel negative about their speech or their self-esteem. Even if your child has just started stuttering, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) will provide assessment, guidance and support to you and your child. In the meantime, if your child is stuttering, creating a relaxed communication environment also helps. Here are some tips:

  • Try NOT to ask your child to “slow down” or “take a breath”
  • Slow down YOUR speaking rate
  • Don’t panic: Respond naturally, listen patiently, and maintain eye contact.
If you have any questions about your child’s speech, early assessment and intervention are key.

Q: My aunt had a stroke. She has trouble talking and the doctor said she has “aphasia”. What does that mean?

A: Aphasia is a language impairment. Aphasia is the result of an injury to the brain, such as a stroke, tumor, head trauma, or disease. You mentioned your aunt has trouble speaking. She may also have trouble understanding conversation, reading, or writing. Every person’s aphasia is different and they may have more difficulty in one area than another. Your aunt may be seeing a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for therapy. Her treatment will depend on her needs and goals. There may be some homework you can do together to help her recover. It’s also very important for you, as a conversation partner, to adapt your own communication style. With some small changes, you can help your aunt participate more in conversation and social activities. If the SLP has given some conversation strategies, use those with her. Here are some other conversation tips:

  • Get her attention before speaking
  • Keep your speech natural and at normal volume
  • Reduce your speaking rate
  • Give her time to respond
  • Check that she has understood
  • Gesture freely and encourage her to gesture, point, or draw to help her express herself

Q: I do a lot of talking for my job and my voice has become raspy and hard to project. What can I do?

A: It can be frustrating when you can’t depend on your voice. Our voice is part of our identity. It’s a tool we rely on for everything from work to our social lives. Voice disorders may be more common than you think. A voice disorder refers to any problem with your voice such as dependability, pitch, quality, or loudness. You might feel strain or ache in your voice. Perhaps your voice gets worse by the end of the day. Some occupations carry a higher risk of voice problems, such as teaching, performing, sales, or anyone else whose voice is an essential part of their work. The first step in managing your voice problem is to identify the cause. Start with a visit to your doctor. In particular, hoarseness lasting longer than 2 weeks should be evaluated. If therapy is recommended, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you find your best voice and keep it performing well. An SLP can also make suggestions for good vocal habits which may prevent some voice problems from occurring.

Q: I have been speaking English for 15 years, but it’s not my first language. I often get asked to repeat myself. How can I improve my accent?

A: Accents are a natural part of speaking a language. Some accents reflect regional differences, for example a Canadian vs. an Australian accent. Some accents are a product of learning English as a second language: the sounds from your first language are influencing your spoken English now. An accent is NOT a negative indicator of your intelligence or your language skills. It’s quite the opposite: it shows that you speak more than one language! Even still, if your accent is strong, some speaking situations can be difficult. You may be less active in meetings at work, or perhaps you sit back in social interactions. The goal of accent training is to improve communication. When you learned English, there may not have been much focus on pronunciation. Some words create confusion if they are pronounced the same way (such as “meat / mitt”). A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can identify the differences between your speech patterns and the local pronunciation. A customized training program can help you speak with clarity and confidence!

Q: I am 45 years old and I’ve been stuttering my whole life. I had a bit of therapy as a child. Am I too old for therapy? Should I try again?

A: Thank you for your questions. It takes courage to talk about your stuttering. In answer to your first question: you are not too old for therapy. You can benefit from treatment at any age. Treatments for stuttering depend on the stage of stuttering, the person’s age, and their individual needs. Although you had some therapy as a child, you are now at a different point in your life. Stuttering can change over time. You might find your feelings and attitudes about your speech have also changed through your experiences. Just because you’ve had therapy before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it again. I recommend you contact a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to discuss stuttering treatment. An SLP can help you identify goals and outline what therapy might look like for you. Your therapist will work with you to achieve positive changes in your communication.

Q: I’ve always had a lisp but I’ve become self-conscious about it lately. I’ve never had therapy. As an adult, am I too old?

A: You are not too old for therapy! You can benefit from therapy at any age. Articulation refers to the production of speech sounds. When they are sharp and clear, speech is easy to understand. Sometimes sounds can be imprecise or even “slushy”. These speech sounds can be harder to understand, or bring more attention to the way the words sound rather than to the message. Articulation can be affected by anatomy, injury, or disease. Other times, there is no identifiable cause; it could be simply a learned movement pattern or habit. Speech sound learning doesn’t happen all at once. As children mature they should be able to produce all sounds of English clearly. If articulation errors are not successfully treated in the early years, they can persist into adulthood. Even still, most articulation problems can be helped at any age. If you are eager to address your articulation (and keep in mind, not everyone is), I recommend you contact a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for an evaluation and discuss your options.

Q: My son is 2 ½ years old but he doesn’t talk. Is it too soon to see a speech-language pathologist?

A: Parents are excited to hear their child’s first sounds and words. If their child is not talking but meeting other developmental targets, they are often told not to worry or to “wait and see”. While it is true that children develop at their own pace, we know there are certain milestones that should be reached by certain ages. By 2 years of age, a child will typically understand simple directions, use some different consonant sounds, and put two words together, such as “more cookie”. They are also typically saying more words every month. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can assess your child’s communication. They will look at all aspects of communication: what your child understands, what your child says, the speech sounds they use, non-verbal gestures, and their interactions. It’s a good idea to have your child’s hearing tested, even if you think you child hears well. It is important to know your child can hear sounds at a variety of volumes. SLPs help children of all ages. Early identification and treatment are key.

Q: I’d like to improve my accent and pronunciation of English. However, I travel often for work. Is there any way to still do training?

A: The goal of accent training is to improve communication. To improve clarity and make changes in your speaking patterns, you need guidance and practice. Using technology, these elements of training are available to you, wherever you are! The first step is providing a speech sample, and this can be recorded online. Step two is the coaching. Your specific session materials will be sent to you electronically. Training sessions can be done remotely – using the telephone or a good internet connection for web-conferencing. The key elements of a coaching session are that it is live, interactive, and tailored to you. After our sessions, you continue your practice using the practice lab that you can access anywhere and anytime you have an internet connection. You have assignments to make practice relevant and meaningful for you. There are many people who live out of town or travel frequently and need flexibility. Whether you do training in person or remotely, or a combination of both, a personalized coaching program is available for you!