What is stuttering?

Stuttering is the presence of dysfluencies in your child's speech. It is an involuntary repetition, prolongation or blocking of a word, phrase or part of a word. These dysfluencies interrupt the flow of your child's speech. Over time, these dysfluencies may begin to include tension around the mouth and throat, avoidance behaviors such as averting eye gaze and other signs of struggling to speak. There are more than 45 million people in the world today who stutter. No one knows for sure what causes stuttering, but it probably begins when a combination of factors comes together (for example: heredity, an increase in language, trauma, etc.).

Is this normal?

During the preschool years, many children have dyfluencies in their speech. These dysfluencies are usually characterized by repeating words or phrases when they are talking. About 5% of all children are likely to stutter for several months or more at some time during their lives. Approximately 80% of children who stutter gradually stop without therapy. Many times parents are not sure whether their child's dysfluencies are normal or an indication of "true stuttering." The following will help you understand the difference between stuttering and normal dysfluencies of one sound for another (pish for fish) or omissions of sounds (eat for seat).

The normally dysfluent child:

  • Occasionally repeats syllables or words once or twice: "li- li- like this."
  • May also include hesitants and fillers, such as "um" and "er."
  • Dysfluencies occur most often between the ages of 18 months and 5 years and tend to come and go.

The child at risk for stuttering:

  • Usually repeats sounds more than five times (2-5 is questionable). "Su-su-su-su-su-such as this"
  • Rise in pitch or loudness during repetitions
  • Dysfluencies occur on more than 10% of your child's words (5-10% is questionable)
  • The child may experience a block (when he/she attempts to talk, no airflow or sound comes out)
  • Presence of audible effort or behaviors including avoidance tactics
  • Presence of strain, head movement, facial grimaces or body movement
  • Fear or anxiety exhibited by child and/or avoidance of speaking

What can parents do?

  • Many times parents want to know: "What should we do?" "How do we talk to our child?" Some suggestions include:
  • Be a good speech model for your child to imitate by using slow, smooth and soft speech.
  • Pause to give your child "breathing room" after the child finishes a sentence. Listen patiently to what your child says, not how it is said.
  • Allow your child to finish words and sentences without interruption. Avoid filling in or speaking your child's thoughts or ideas.
  • Set aside time and guidelines for turn-taking at family meals and gatherings.
  • Spend special time alone with your child each day.
  • Avoid criticisms such as "slow down" and "think about what you want to say."
  • Avoid situations where your child feels pressured.

When should you seek help?

You should contact a speech-language pathologist if you are concerned that your child's dysfluencies are interfering with his/her communication, continuing for an extended length of time or distressing him/her. A speech-language pathologist will be able to evaluate your child and offer suggestions for therapy and/or home intervention. If you have further questions, you can reach the Stuttering Foundation of America at 1-800-992-9392.