Dealing with speech problems

Colin Firth scooped many awards for his portrayal of King George VI in The King’s Speech.

The film shows King George struggling to overcome his stammer, and it’s highlighted just how difficult it can be to deal with a speech impediment.

Learning to talk is one of the biggest things that a toddler learns to do, so it’s natural for parents to be worried that their child isn’t learning quickly enough or is having difficulties.

Most children learn to talk without any problems, but there are certain conditions that affect a small number of kids. Here we explain what they are and what to do if you’re worried about your child.


One child in 20 will stammer, usually between the ages of two and five, according to the British Stammering Association. Often it’s part of learning to speak. The cause is unknown, though a stammer may signal underlying problems.

When to worry about stammering

If your child stammers for more than just a few weeks, ask your doctor to refer you to a speech and language therapist. If the waiting list is longer than three months, complain.

‘It’s probably quite normal if your child leaves short gaps in sentences, such as: ‘Can I? watch television?’ So are words like ‘um’, as in the sentence: ‘Can um Sam come to play?’ advises Frances Cook, senior therapist at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering.

The centre, one of a handful of NHS centres in the UK, was set up by Monty Python star Michael Palin, whose own father stammered. Frances adds: ‘A child may repeat a word two or three times, such as: ‘Can can can I have an ice-cream?’ That’s also fine, as long as the word doesn’t continue to be repeated over several months.’

However, Frances urges parents to watch out if kids repeat the first sound of a word, such as ‘B-b-but.’

What to do about stammering

Don’t wait, says the British Stammering Association. The sooner treatment starts, the more effective it is. Your health visitor can refer you to a centre or speech therapist who will assess your child and help you with techniques to use at home.