Stuttering in Children

What is stuttering in children?

Stuttering is a speech problem. The normal flow of speech is disrupted. A child who stutters repeats or prolongs sounds, syllables, or words. Stuttering is different from repeating words when learning to speak. Stuttering may make it difficult for a child to communicate with others.

There are several types of stuttering:

  • Developmental stuttering. This is the most common type of stuttering in children. It usually happens when a child is between ages 2 and 5. It may happen when a child’s speech and language development lags behind what he or she needs or wants to say.
  • Neurogenic stuttering. Neurogenic stuttering may happen after a stroke or brain injury. It happens when there are signal problems between the brain and nerves and muscles involved in speech.
  • Psychogenic stuttering. Psychogenic stuttering is not common. It may happen after emotional trauma. Or it can happen along with problems thinking or reasoning. 

What causes stuttering in a child?

Doctors don't know the exact cause of stuttering. Developmental stuttering is more common in some families. It may be passed down from parents to children.

Which children are at risk for stuttering?

A child is more likely to stutter if he or she has:

  • A family history of stuttering
  • Stuttered for 6 months or longer
  • Other speech or language disorders
  • Strong emotions about stuttering or family members with fears or concerns

What are the symptoms of stuttering in a child?

Each child’s development is different. A child may have symptoms of stuttering that are part of his or her normal speech and language development. If the symptoms last for 3 to 6 months, he or she may have developmental stuttering. Symptoms of stuttering may vary throughout the day and in different situations. Your child’s symptoms may include: 

  • Repeating sounds, syllables, or words, for example, repeating a sound as in W-W-W-What
  • Prolonging sounds, for example, 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. The mouth is open to speak, but nothing is said.
  • Being out of breath or nervous while talking
  • Fast eye blinking or trembling or shaking lips when speaking
  • Increased stuttering when tired, excited, or under stress
  • Being afraid to talk

The symptoms of stuttering can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is stuttering diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask you about your family history. He or she will also ask you about your child’s stuttering symptoms. The provider will usually suggest that your child see a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP). This specialist can diagnose and treat speech and language problems. The specialist will:

  • Ask many questions about your child’s speech.
  • Test your child’s ability to speak with different techniques and in various situations.

How is stuttering treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

There is no cure for stuttering. Early treatment can prevent stuttering from continuing into adulthood. Different techniques are used to teach your child skills that can help him or her speak without stuttering. For example, the SLP may teach your child to slow down speech and learn to breathe while speaking.

What are the possible complications of stuttering in a child?

Complications of stuttering may include:

  • Limited participation in some activities
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Poor school performance
  • Social problems

How can I help my child live with stuttering?

Here are tips to help your child manage stuttering:

  • Try to provide a relaxed environment.
  • Set time aside to talk with your child.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about fun and easy topics.
  • Try not to react in a negative way. Instead, praise your child for correct speech.
  • Don't interrupt your child while he or she is speaking.
  • Speak slowly to your child. This may help him or her to also speak slowly.
  • Pay attention to your child when he or she speaks.
  • Wait for your child to say words or sentences without saying them for him or her.
  • Talk openly about the stuttering if the child brings up the subject.
  • Educate your child's teachers and help them provide a school environment that is accepting and safe from bullying.
  • Share your family history of speech and language disorders (if known) with your healthcare provider.

Your child may need follow-up speech therapy to prevent stuttering from returning. He or she may also benefit from counseling or self-help groups. 

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child:

  • Has stuttering that lasts for more than 6 months
  • Has a fear of talking
  • Is not talking at all
  • Develops problems in school

Key points about stuttering in children

  • Stuttering is a speech problem where the normal flow of speech is disrupted.
  • The 3 types of stuttering are developmental stuttering, neurogenic stuttering, and psychogenic stuttering.
  • The exact cause of stuttering is unknown.
  • A speech-language pathologist diagnoses stuttering by evaluating your child’s speech and language abilities.
  • There is no cure for stuttering. But early treatment may keep stuttering from continuing into adulthood.
  • It is critical that a child who stutters feel accepted and supported by the important adults in their life.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.