What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a problem commonly associated with childhood, but, for some people, it can last a lifetime. Stuttering is a condition that affects a person’s ability to speak smoothly. It can cause them to repeat their words, parts of sentences and sounds over and over again. They might prolong the pronunciation of a single word or sound, even tensing up their facial muscles as they struggle to speak. Stuttering is frustrating because you notice it in yourself and you can see that others notice it, as well.

Most cases of stuttering begin in children between the ages of 2 and 5 as their vocabulary begins to develop. It usually stops by the time they enter school. Fewer than 1% of cases of stuttering are in adults.

It’s not uncommon for everyone to stutter a little or to sometimes say, “um, uh,” but stuttering is a more noticeable problem. Research shows stuttering occurs in boys more than girls.

What are the symptoms of stuttering?

The symptoms of stuttering are usually obvious when you hear the person speak or watch them struggle to speak. It’s apparent in a person’s speech flow. For example, when saying the word, “where,” it might sound like, “W…W…W… where.” Words starting with the letters “k,” “g,” and “t” may be difficult starting sounds for people who stutter. Another sign of a stutter is the prolonged pronunciation of a word, such as, “My graaanndma gave me a cookie.” Repeating entire phrases or sentences are another sign of stuttering. For example, you might hear the person start off smooth and then repeat the last few words, such as, “I can play with you, but I have to check…I have to check…I have to check with my parents first.”

You also may notice physical signs that are characteristic of stuttering. These include the head and eyes rolling backward as the person struggles to get his or her words out, or a tightening of the muscles around the mouth.

Stuttering may increase during certain social situations. You might notice that your child avoids talking in these situations because he or she is afraid being teased or doesn’t want to draw attention to the problem.

What causes stuttering?

Research is still being done to identify the cause of stuttering. It can occur from the natural process of organizing your thoughts and words. A combination of factors can also cause people to stutter, including:

  • A family history of stuttering.
  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Problems with speech motor control.
  • Brain injuries or other severe medical conditions.
  • Emotional and mental health problems.

How is stuttering diagnosed?

Parents, teachers, and family members are often the first to notice a child is stuttering. Tell your doctor if your child stutters, even at the early age of 2 years old. Your doctor may refer you to early intervention services provided by your local community from birth to age 3. Some parents also seek private speech therapy that may be covered by health insurance.

Can stuttering be prevented or avoided?

No one knows why stuttering occurs, so there is no way to prevent or avoid it. Once you suspect or notice that stuttering may be a problem for your child, you should not ignore it. Early intervention can help.

Treatment for stuttering

It’s important to follow your speech therapist’s treatment plan and not discipline your child for stuttering. Be patient. Not being patient when your child is speaking only makes the stuttering worse and embarrasses them more.

Treatment will likely include regular visits (possibly weekly) with the speech therapist and speech exercises to do at home. Treatment will depend on the severity and frequency of your child’s stuttering, as well as the underlying cause.

Living with stuttering

You can help your child’s confidence by remaining patient, avoiding certain situations you know will make the stuttering worse, and encouraging conversation in less stressful situations. Staying positive and making eye contact with your child while he or she is talking will make him or her more relaxed. Family dinners, car rides, and other engaging family time will give your child the opportunity to practice the speaking exercises to reduce a stutter.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What if my child never stops stuttering?
  • How will that affect his adult life?
  • Is it true that singing can sometimes help a person overcome stuttering?