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Speech problems

bully; tease; stutter; speech; talk; words;


What are speech problems?

speech problemsTalking is something most of us take for granted. We think something in our brains then the brain sends a message to the muscles that control speech. Then the muscles in the mouth, face, tongue and throat work together to form the words.  

Sometimes we all have difficulty getting our thoughts out into words but it becomes a problem when some people have an interruption somewhere along the line and some part of the process doesn't work. They are sometimes called speech disorders.

It could be something to do with:

  • Articulation, (say ar-tik-u-lay-shun) where the sound doesn't come out right eg. saying 'd' instead of 'th', or 'l' instead of 'r'.
  • Fluency, (say flew-en-see) where someone has problems getting the word out and stutters, eg. 'st-st-st-stop.'
  • Resonance (say rez-o-nans) or voice disorders, e.g. someone whose voice is very quiet so that others cannot hear what he or she is saying. Sometimes the person may sound like they have a bad cold all the time.

What causes problems with speech?

Sometimes it is difficult for doctors and scientists to work out why talking is hard for some kids.

Some medical conditions cause kids to have problems with speech.

  • Hearing impairment (not being able to hear).
  • A cleft lip or palate.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Nodules or lumps on the vocal chords.
  • Weak muscles around the mouth.


Stuttering is also called disfluency (say diss-flew-en-see).

Stuttering seems in part to be genetic. Someone else in the family may have a problem with stuttering.

There are about 3 times more males than females who stutter.
stuttering is also called disfluency

We call it stuttering when someone:

  • repeats parts of words eg. 'tay-tay-tay-table'
  • seems to get stuck on the sound at the beginning of a word (sssssun)
  • is silent before, during or after a word.
  • shows muscle tension or tremors in lips, jaw and neck, or may blink or turn their head from side to side when trying to get the word out.

Usually the stuttering is at or near the beginning of a sentence.

People who stutter know exactly what they want to say. They do not have a problem with understanding.
b..b..b..because it's true

People almost never stutter when singing, whispering or when they can't hear their own voice, eg. singing or reciting with a group.

Stress can make it harder for them to talk fluently but doesn't cause stuttering. Practising can help eg. when you have to give a talk to your class.

Our topic Shyness – are you shy? has some tips on becoming more confident.

If you're having problems with speech

Your doctor, parent, caregiver or teacher may suggest that you go to a speech therapist. A speech therapist will listen to you and may also send you for a hearing test.

being teasedThey will talk to you and your parents or caregivers about how to help you with speaking. You will work together in therapy sessions, but will also need to practise what you have learned at home so that your speech will improve more quickly.

Some kids can be unkind. If you are being teased then talk to your parents, teacher or other trusted adult. Stick up for yourself.

Our topic Stick up for yourself! Being assertive may give you some tips.

What you can do to help a friend

  • If you have a friend who has a speech problem then you need to be patient.
  • It doesn't help if you try to finish a word or a sentence for that person. Just wait quietly until they have managed to finish the word or sentence by themselves.
  • If it's still unclear, try telling the person what you think they said and ask, "Is that right?"
  • If your friend is being teased, then tell whoever is being mean that your friend has a speech problem and they are being very unkind.
  • You may even help your friend by quietly singing, "What did you say?" so your friend can sing the answer back to you. (Remember that people may not stutter when they sing and this could be a fun thing that you do together.)
    sing the words

Kids say

  • "When I was younger I went to speech therapy because I wouldn't speak. We did different activities that helped me speak to people. We used picture cards and other stuff like that to help me practise words." Gilly
  • "I used to get th and f mixed up. My mum and my teacher kept reminding me and making me practise saying the words over and over until I could say them properly."
  • "My front baby teeth came out before my second teeth were ready so I had problems making some sounds. I tried hard but it was only when my new teeth came that I went to speech therapy and learned to make the sounds properly."
  • "I stutter sometimes when I try to talk too quickly or get excited. My family and friends understand but it is embarrassing when I have to talk in front of the class or to people who don't know me."

Dr Kate says

Dr Kate
If you have a speech problem then practise your speech exercises as much as you can. It may seem a bit strange at first, but in time it really does help.

It is important to realize that you are not alone. Many famous people have overcome difficulties with speech.

  • Megan Washington - Australian singer
  • Rowan Atkinson - British actor who plays Mr Bean
  • Steven Hawking - scientist
  • Sam Neil - Actor
  • Carley Simon - Singer
  • James Earl Jones – Actor  (Darth Vader in star wars)
  • King George VI of Great Britain (did you see the film 'The King's Speech'?).


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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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