Stuttering is a speech disorder. It’s also called stammering or diffluent speech. It’s characterized by:
- repeated words, sounds, or syllables
- halting speech
- uneven rate of speech
Stuttering affects about 5 percent of children aged 2 to 5, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Most children won’t continue to stutter in adulthood. Typically, as your child’s development progresses, the stuttering will stop. Early intervention can also help prevent stuttering in adulthood.
However, some children, less than 1 percent, will continue to stutter as adults, according to the NIDCD. Also, if a child starts stuttering after the ages of 8 to 10, the stuttering will most likely continue into adulthood.
There are three types of stuttering:
- developmental: most common in children younger than 5 years old as they develop their speech and language abilities and usually resolves without treatment; more common in males
- neurogenic: caused by signal abnormalities between the brain and nerves/muscles
- psychogenic: 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.” They may have difficulty uttering certain sounds or starting a sentence. The stress caused by stuttering may show up in the following symptoms:
- physical changes like facial tics, lip tremors, eye blinking, and tension in the face and upper body
- frustration when attempting to communicate
- hesitation or pause before starting to speak
- refusal to speak
- insertion of extra sounds or words into sentences, such as “uh” or “um”
- repetition of words or phrases
- tension in the voice
- rearrangement of words in a sentence
- making long sounds with words, such as: “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.
There are multiple possible causes of stuttering. Some causes include:
- family history of stuttering
- family dynamics
- development during childhood
Brain injuries from a stroke can cause neurogenic stuttering. Severe emotional trauma can cause what's 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.
A speech language pathologist can help diagnose stuttering. No invasive testing is necessary. Typically, you or your 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. Speech therapy is an option for some children.
Speech therapy can reduce interruptions in speech and improve your child’s self-esteem. Therapy often focuses on controlling speech patterns by encouraging your child to speak in shorter sentences and at slower rates.
The best candidates for speech therapy include those who:
- have stuttered for three to six months
- have pronounced stuttering
- struggle with stuttering or experience emotional difficulties because of stuttering
- have a family history of stuttering
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’s appropriate to correct a child’s stuttering.
Electronic devices may be used to treat stuttering. One type encourages children to speak more slowly by playing back a distorted recording of their voice when they speak quickly. Other devices are worn, like hearing aids, and they can create distracting background noise that’s known to help reduce stuttering. Over time this type of device may become less effective.
There are no medications that have been proven to reduce stuttering episodes. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, electric brain stimulation, and breathing techniques also don’t appear to be effective.
Whether or not you decide to seek treatment, creating a low-stress environment can help reduce stuttering. Support groups for you and your child also are available.