Stuttering is a speech disorder. It is also called stammering or diffluent speech. It is characterized by repeated words, sounds, or syllables, halting speech, and an uneven rate of speech. Stuttering affects about five percent of children aged two to five, according to the National Institutes of Health (PubMed). While most children outgrow stuttering with time. Johns Hopkins notes that only one percent or less of adults will continue to stutter (Johns Hopkins).
There are three types of stuttering:
- developmental–most common in children younger than five years old as their speech and language abilities develop; usually resolves without treatment
- neurogenic–caused by signal abnormalities between the brain and nerves/muscles
- psychological–originates in the part of the brain that governs thinking and reasoning
Stuttering is characterized by repeated words, sounds, or syllables and disruptions in the normal rate of speech. For example, a person may repeat the same consonant like K, G, or T. He or she may have difficulty uttering certain sounds or starting a sentence. The stress of stuttering may manifest in facial tics, lip tremors, eye blinking, and tension in the face and upper body.
Examples of stuttering-related symptoms include:
- frustration when attempting to communicate
- hesitating or pausing before starting to speak
- declining to speak
- inserting extra sounds/words into sentences, such as “uh” or “um”
- repeating words or phrases
- tension in the voice
- rearranging words in a sentence
- making long sounds with words, like “My name is Amaaaaaaanda.”
Some children may not be aware that they stutter.
Social settings and high-stress environments can increase the likelihood that a person will stutter. Public speaking can be terrifying for those who stutter.
The causes of stuttering may vary. For example, brain injuries from a stroke can cause neurogenic stuttering. Severe emotional trauma can cause stuttering. This is known as psychogenic stuttering.
Stuttering may run in families because of an inherited abnormality in the part of the brain that governs language. If you or your parents stuttered, your children may also stutter.
Most children who experience developmental stuttering will not continue to stutter in adulthood. Developmental stuttering first appears in children younger than five. It is more common in males. As your child’s development progresses, he or she will be able to meet the demands of speech, and the stuttering will stop. However, if a child with developmental stuttering is pressured to speak more clearly and quickly, he or she may continue to stutter throughout life. Doctors refer to these individuals as true stutterers.
Less than one percent of children will continue to stutter as adults. If a child starts stuttering after the ages of eight to 10, he or she will most likely stutter in adulthood.
A speech-language pathologist can help to diagnose stuttering. No invasive testing is necessary. Typically, the parent or child can describe stuttering symptoms and a speech-language pathologist can evaluate the degree to which your child stutters.
Not all children who stutter will require treatment because developmental stuttering usually resolves with time. However, speech therapy may help some children who stutter. The best candidates for speech therapy are those who:
- have stuttered for three to six months or have pronounced stuttering
- struggle with stuttering or experience emotional difficulties because of stuttering
- have a family history of stuttering
Speech therapy can improve your child’s self-esteem and reduce interruptions in his or her speech. Therapy often focuses on controlling speech patterns by encouraging your child to speak in shorter sentences and at slower rates.
Electronic devices may also be used to treat stuttering. One type encourages your child to speak more slowly by playing back a distorted recording of his or her voice when he or she speaks quickly. Other devices are worn like hearing aids and create distracting background noise that is known to help reduce stuttering. Over time this type of device may become less effective.
Creating a low-stress environment for your child can help to reduce stuttering. Support groups for parents and children also are available.
Parents can also use therapeutic techniques to help their child feel less self-conscious about stuttering. Listening patiently is important, as is setting aside the time for talking. A speech therapist can help parents learn when it is appropriate to correct a child’s stuttering.
Medications have not been shown to reduce stuttering episodes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, electric brain stimulation, and breathing techniques have not been shown to be effective in treating stuttering, according to the Mayo Clinic.