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BODY WATCH : It's Best to Catch the Problem Early

November 28, 1995|THE WASHINGTON POST

While the symptoms of stuttering are easily recognizable, the cause remains a mystery. (Hippocrates thought stuttering was due to dryness of the tongue; Francis Bacon suggested hot wine to thaw a "refrigerated" tongue; some even thought the problem was too large a tongue, so they clipped off portions.)

Many children from 2 to 4 go through a stage when they seem to stutter. This can be disturbing to parents, who don't know if it is the first sign of a long-term problem. Such speech problems are more common in these preschool years, particularly when a child is learning to express new, abstract concepts.

But if a child seems aware of his speech problem, or if it is accompanied by signs of tension or frustration, speech pathologists suggest a professional evaluation.

The key to successfully treating the problem, speech pathologists say, is catching it early--before years of embarrassment and the development of compensatory tricks forge a more severe and persistent speech problem.

In most cases, treatment may not end stuttering completely, but it can reduce the problem and make the person speak more comfortably.

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