Why is my child stuttering?

By Aaron Van Ningen, MD Jul 04, 2017

The disruption in the normal flow of speech known as stuttering is marked by repeated or prolonged sounds, syllables or words and differs from repeating words when learning to speak. There are several types of stuttering, all of which can make it difficult for a child to communicate with others:

  • Developmental stuttering is the most common form of stuttering in children and usually happens between the ages of two and five. It may happen when children’s speech and language development falls behind what they want to say. This stuttering is more common in some families and may be passed from parents to children.
  • Neurogenic stuttering may happen after stroke or brain injury when there are signal problems between the brain and the nerves and muscles involved in speech.
  • Psychogenic stuttering is uncommon. It may happen after emotional trauma or can accompany problems with thinking or reasoning.
    Doctors don’t know the exact causes of stuttering. Children with a family history of stuttering are more likely to stutter themselves. Also more likely to stutter are children with other speech or language disorders. Children who stutter may develop social issues and be less likely to participate in certain activities. In addition, school performance can suffer.

Stuttering symptoms

Each child develops differently and some may show symptoms of stuttering that are part of normal speech and language development. Those with symptoms lasting from three to six months may have developmental stuttering. Symptoms can vary throughout the different situations children face during the day and can include:

  • Repeating sounds, syllables or words, such as, ‘W-W-W-What’
  • Prolonging sounds, such as, ‘SSSSend’
  • Using interjections, such as ‘um’ or like,’ for example, ‘I am going — um, um, like..’
  • Talking slowly or with a lot of pauses
  • Stopped or blocked speech in which the mouth is open to speak but nothing is said
  • Being out of breath or nervous while talking
  • Fast eye-blinking, trembling or shaking lips when speaking
  • Fear of talking

Stuttering diagnosis

Because the symptoms of stuttering can mimic other health conditions, consult a pediatrician for a diagnosis if your child has symptoms listed above, has stuttering that lasts for more than six months or is not talking at all. Before your visit, write down questions you may want answered.
A pediatrician will inquire about family history and your child’s specific symptoms. If warranted, your child’s provider will suggest seeing a certified speech-language pathologist, who can diagnose and treat speech language problems. This specialist will delve deeper into the issues your child is experiencing and test the child’s ability to speak with different techniques and in various situations.

Stuttering treatment

There is no cure for stuttering. Treatment depends on severity of symptoms, age and general health. Early treatment can help prevent stuttering from continuing into adulthood. Children can develop skills that help them learn to speak without stuttering. Techniques can differ but, for example, a speech-language pathologist may teach how to slow down and learn to breathe while speaking.
Your child may need follow-up speech therapy to prevent stuttering from returning.

Living with stuttering

Your child may benefit for counseling or self-help groups. If your child wants to talk about the subject of stuttering, discuss it openly. To help your child manage stuttering:

  • Provide as relaxed an environment as possible
  • Set aside time to talk, pay when doing so attention and don’t interrupt
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about fun, easy topics
  • Avoid negative reactions in favor of praise for correct speech
  • Set an example by speaking slowly
  • Wait for your child to say words or sentences without saying them first

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