by Dale Ducworth, M.C.D., CCC-SLP
How do I know if my child is stuttering?
It is not uncommon for young children to have disfluencies (pauses, repetitions,
additions, or prolongations of words/sounds/phrases) in their speech. In fact, about
5% of all children are likely to stutter at some point in their development, usually
during the preschool years. It is also very normal for a child to go back and forth
between periods of fluency and disfluency. Sometimes, this can occur for no apparent
reason, but often this happens when a child is excited, tired, or feels rushed to
The number of disfluencies present in a child's speech is an important factor in
determining if a child is stuttering. Generally speaking, stuttering on more than
10 words out of 100 may indicate that the child is having a problem. Other factors
must be considered, as well, so only a speech pathologist trained in the diagnosis
and treatment of stuttering is qualified to make this diagnosis.
What causes stuttering?
There is still a lot that is unknown about the cause of stuttering, but experts
agree that it is probably caused by a combination of factors. First, genetics is
believed to play a part because stuttering tends to run in families. Most children
that stutter have a family member that also stutters or stuttered as a child.
Second, developmental factors are believed to be a contributing factor. During the
preschool years, a child's physical, cognitive, social/emotional, and speech/language
skills are developing at a very rapid rate. This rapid development can lead to stuttering
in children who are predisposed to it. This is why stuttering often begins during
the preschool years.
Third, environmental factors can have an influence. Some examples of these factors
include parental attitudes and expectations, the child's speech and language environment,
and stressful life events. This does not mean that parents are doing anything wrong.
Often these things are not harmful to a child that doesn't stutter, but can aggravate
stuttering in a child that has a tendency to stutter. Finally, the child's fear
and anxiety of stuttering can cause it to continue and even worsen.
How can stuttering be treated in children?
Treatment often focuses on having children produce fluent speech as they learn to
selfmonitor. This can be done by first having the child say single words in a slow,
relaxed way. The number of words the child says may be slowly increased until the
child is saying sentences. For example, “ball”, “red ball”, “a big red ball”, “I
have a big red ball.” This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months
or more. Another stuttering treatment technique focuses on helping children decrease
secondary characteristics like twitching, blinking, and a closed or clamped jaw.
What can I do to help my child at home?
There are many things that you can do (and avoid doing) that will help your child.
The most important thing that you can do is to use a smooth, relaxed rate when talking
to him/her. Speak to your child in simple, short sentences, pausing slightly before
responding. While you are talking, be sure to listen to what your child is saying
without interrupting or finishing sentences for him/her. It is very important that
your child knows that he/she is being understood. Try to slow the pace of your household,
minimizing the level of excitement. When he/she has difficulty speaking, it’s OK
to acknowledge it by saying, “You had a little trouble getting that out.”
It is very important to inform all those who have contact with your child about
the importance of using smooth, relaxed speech when talking to him/her. This would
include all family members, teachers, etc. There are many materials available through
the Stuttering Foundation (http://www.stutteringhelp.org
that are helpful for parents and teachers. As well, the American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association (ASHA) recognizes board certified members in the area of fluency disorders.
You can learn more at: