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Why some children stammer

The world of science does not have any simple, obvious explanation for stammering and the cause is more likely to be a variety of contributing factors rather than a single cause. These factors may be genetic or environmental, such as problems in the home, stress or even school problems. 

There is often embarrassment about having a stammer. People who stammer are quite fluent if they sing a song, whisper or speak as part of a group. People who stammer may have difficulty coordinating the muscles for speech and may need more time to speak. Stammering usually begins in childhood usually between three and five and in 90 per cent of cases before the age of eight. One in 20 children will have a stammer at some point in time but four per cent recover -- with or without help.

Only one per cent of adults stammer. Stammering is four times more common in boys than in girls, and in any family with a person who stammers there is an increased risk that other family members will have the same problem – which is often a hereditary case.  The severity of stammering may depend on the child's surroundings. A child may have problems initiating speech or flowing from one syllable to the next.  All stammers sound different. Some children deal with the problem by simply not speaking at all.

Stammering or stuttering should be properly diagnosed by a speech therapist who can advise parents on what the problem is and how it can best be treated. There is no known cure for stammering but some therapies can make a difference.  One simple approach that helps many people is just to speak more slowly. Speech and language therapists can teach the affected child a variety of techniques. Other treatments include formal speech therapy, social skills, self awareness and communication skills.

If parents are worried about their child's speech they should consult a medical doctor. Some children with a stammer also develop a tic or tremor (shake). This should be dealt with at the same time. Now let us see what could affect child growth -- whether they have a stammer or not. Most children grow at a rate that follows a standard pattern or growth curve. However, various problems may develop, particularly if a baby fails to put on weight or if an older child's growth slows down or stops.

In babies, growth problems usually appear as a failure to put on weight (or occasionally excessive weight gain), although length and head circumference are also important. Children’s height is measured and weight taken. There may be concern if height or weight falls below normal. Accompanying symptoms, such as poor appetite or chronic diarrhoea, may be clues to the diagnosis. Many factors can cause real or apparent failure to grow at a normal rate.

The causes range from physical illness (such as inherited conditions) to practical problems with feeding (difficult breastfeeding, wrong formula feeding) and emotional neglect. When small babies fail to gain weight this is known as “failure to thrive”.  Premature babies or babies of small parents may seem to have growth problems but be quite normal, while breastfed babies can have a dramatic initial weight gain. The height and weight of older children varies greatly.

There may be growth spurts as well as periods when there seems to be little growth, but they should generally follow the standard growth curve. Growth problems may be due to illness (for example, food absorption problems such as coeliac disease or cystic fibrosis.)  Other problems may include any prolonged illness.  Common childhood illnesses are likely to slow down growth temporarily. Poor eating habits and psychological problems rarely affect the growth of a child. However, feeding disorders, such as anorexia, can have a serious impact on growth.

Growth problems are common throughout childhood but are usually temporary. There is rarely a serious underlying problem and most late developers eventually catch up. Children should be regularly measured and their weight and height monitored on standard growth curves.  Treatment of growth problems depends on the cause, but parents should ensure that babies get all the nutrients they need and that older children eat healthily. Exclusive Breast-feeding helps protect babies from common illnesses and ensures good physical and mental growth and development.  

A child who is given only breast-milk for about the first six months usually grows very well during this time.  Unfortunately, not many parents know this. Babies aged between six and 12 months should be breast-fed frequently and before being given other foods.  
After six months of age, the risk of infection increases as the child begins to eat other foods and crawl. Poor nutrition in the first two years can slow a child's physical and mental development for the rest of his life. In order to grow and stay healthy, children need a variety of nutritious foods.   It is important that children eat frequently to provide for all their needs. Foods such as mashed vegetables, a little chopped or minced meat, eggs or fish should be added to the child's food as often as possible.   spmwita@yahoo.com Phones: 0787 66 22 99  or 0787 44 66 22

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