When the flow of a child's speech is disrupted while talking, they're experiencing a stutter.
These disruptions may be observed as a repetition of a sound or word, by prolonging sounds within a word, difficulty starting a word or abnormal pauses within a word.
Typically, a stutter will resolve on its own by the time the child turns 5, but some children may benefit from professional help to reduce the effects of stuttering.
What causes stuttering?
A number of factors can contribute to stuttering. At times, stuttering may be caused by something as simple as high activity level or speaking at a rapid pace. In other cases, stuttering may be a result of how the brain processes language, which may be genetically influenced. Approximately 60 percent of those who stutter have a close family member who stutters.
In rare cases, emotional or physical trauma can lead to a stutter.
What are the signs of stuttering?
Speech flow disruptions are signs of stuttering, but parents may also notice some less obvious symptoms. These could include adding words like “um” to a sentence because the next word is difficult to say; tense body or facial movements when speaking; anxiety about talking; and limited verbal communication skills.
Symptoms of stuttering may be exaggerated when a child is tired, excited or stressed.
When should you see a doctor about your child’s stutter?
The first signs of stuttering often appear between 18 and 24 months of age. Stuttering at this point in development is natural, and parents are encouraged to be patient as their child refines his or her communication skills. Often stuttering will decrease after a child enters school and is provided with social opportunities to sharpen these skills.
In some cases, it is advisable to see a speech therapist at age 3. This is only necessary if your child’s stuttering is frequent, worsening or accompanied by uncontrolled body or facial movements.
If your child still stutters frequently at age 5, look for signs of worsening stuttering, uncontrolled body movements or vocal tension (i.e. changes in pitch or volume). If you notice any of these symptoms or that your child avoids situations that require talking, consult a speech therapist.
Tips for parents:
If your child is struggling with stuttering, there are some things that you can do to help.
• Speak slowly and clearly when talking to your child.
• Make mealtime a fun, stress-free place for your child to practice communicating.
• Talk to your child’s teacher about limiting stressful speaking situations in school.
• Show signs of frustration.
• Require perfection by asking your child to start over or telling them to think before talking.
• Finish, correct or interrupt your child’s sentences.
Dr. Heather L. Zimmerman is board certified in pediatrics. Learn more about Heather on the Boys Town Pediatrics website.