What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech disorder. It’s also called stammering or diffluent speech.

Stuttering is characterized by:

  • repeated words, sounds, or syllables
  • halting speech production
  • uneven rate of speech

According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), stuttering affects about 5 to 10 percent of all children at some point, most often occurring between ages 2 to 6.

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.

Although most children outgrow stuttering, the NIDCD states that up to 25 percent of children who don’t recover from stuttering will continue to stutter as adults.

There are three types of stuttering:

  • Developmental. Most common in children younger than 5 years old, particularly males, this type occurs as they develop their speech and language abilities. It usually resolves without treatment.
  • Neurogenic. Signal abnormalities between the brain and nerves or muscles cause this type.
  • Psychogenic. This type 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, excessive eye blinking, and tension in the face and upper body
  • frustration when attempting to communicate
  • hesitation or pausing before starting to speak
  • refusal to speak
  • interjections 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 challenging for those who stutter.

There are multiple possible causes of stuttering. Some include:

  • family history of stuttering
  • family dynamics
  • neurophysiology
  • development during childhood

Brain injuries from a stroke can cause neurogenic stuttering. Severe emotional trauma can cause 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 you or 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

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 monitor their rate of speech, breath support, and laryngeal tension.

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.

Other treatments

Electronic devices may be used to treat stuttering. One type encourages children to speak more slowly by playing back an altered 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.

There are no medications that have yet been proven to reduce stuttering episodes. Although not proven, recent research suggests there is hyperactivity of the muscles affecting speech and medications to slow the hyperactivity may be helpful.

Alternative therapies like acupuncture, electric brain stimulation, and breathing techniques have been researched but 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 are also available.