This successful program can reduce or eliminate stuttering in young children

The Lidcombe Program is a behavioural treatment for children who stutter* and are younger than 6 years.

Developed by the University of Sydney in the 1980s and since adopted by speech pathologists around the world, the program takes its name from the suburb of Sydney, where the Australian Stuttering Research Centre (ASRC) was located.

The Program is a parent-led treatment plan based on positive behavioural reinforcement. It involves praising children for ‘smooth talking’ and gently correcting ‘bumpy talking’. The program is successful for most children, with stuttering eliminated or reduced to very low levels in an average of 12 weeks.

In weekly sessions with a speech pathologist, parents are taught how to integrate these methods into structured play and conversation. Parents rank their children’s stuttering on a scale of one (no stuttering) to 10 (extremely severe) and monitor their progress.

The program is successful for most children, with stuttering eliminated or reduced to very low levels in an average of 12 weeks.

Tria Williams enrolled her four-year-old daughter Mae in the program and says Mae is on track to be stutter-free by the time she starts school. Mae started off repeating words, generally at the start of sentences, when she was two-and-a-half. With the supervision of a speech pathologist, Tria waited to see whether Mae’s problem would resolve naturally, but her daughter’s stuttering became worse, and she noticed she was becoming withdrawn at preschool.

“It was getting to a point where she was repeating almost every word and finding it quite difficult and frustrating to finish a sentence,” says Tria. “We were seeing signs of her frustration through her behaviour, so tantrums were happening quite a lot. I found it very stressful and heart-breaking to see her get really frustrated.”

Another parent, Naomi, started her son Dylan in the program aged two and a half. Dylan had a level-eight stutter, and it was eroding his confidence. Within eight months of treatment, his stuttering was low to non-existent. Naomi says the treatment process was very emotional and intensive.

She has since started a support group for parents with children who stutter and says carers should trust their instincts and not be afraid to seek treatment and challenge doctors who play down their concerns.

“You’re watching your child not being able to get out their words, and when you’re in it, you don’t feel they’re ever going to recover. It’s very intense for the parent,” she says.

Equally troubling for parents are children who struggle to be understood because of a speech or language delay. Children with a speech delay have trouble articulating words and sounds, while language delay affects comprehension and how children process language and join words together. Speech pathologist Stephanie Rickard says by age three, toddlers should be easily understood by their parents and familiar people. They may have some sound errors, particularly on R, V, and Th sounds, which develop at school age, but the consonant sounds – P, B, M, T, D, N, H, W – and most vowel sounds should be clear.

One of the biggest obstacles for parents accessing speech therapy is cost, with some speech pathologists charging up to $90+ for a half-hour session. Medicare does not generally cover private consultations unless the child has other complex medical needs, and patients in the public system can wait more than a year for an appointment.

*Stuttering, or stammering, is a speech disorder characterised by interruptions to speech.

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