Stuttering is a relatively common speech disorder – it affects around 5-8.5 out of 100 people in their lifetime, but less than 1 in 100 at any one time (Yairi & Ambrose, 2013). It makes it hard for some children to get their words out smoothly.
Stuttering is often described by speech pathologists and others as a ‘disorder of fluency’ because it interferes with the smooth, flowing, effortless speech many of us take for granted.
Managing your child’s stuttering can sometimes feel like an impossible burden. But effective therapy is available.
Speech pathologists can assess formally whether a child is stuttering. But parents who think their child is stuttering are usually right.
Symptoms may include:
- repeating sounds, syllables and words: e.g. “s-s-s-s-unflower”, “I ate some ma-ma-ma-marmalade”, or “ it was so-so-so-so big”;
- times when it looks like a child is struggling to speak – that he or she is “blocked” from getting the words out or unable to move to to the next sound or word, e.g. “do my b_________utton up” or “I want nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn-umber 3”;
- unnecessary elements creeping into speech to mask the main symptoms (e.g. lots of “ums”, “likes” “OKs” and “you know what I mean?”);
- secondary symptoms, like facial tics, grimacing or upper limb movements; and
- frustration/distress, e.g. “My words won’t come out/I just can’t say it”.
Lots of research has been done, but we still don’t know what causes stuttering. We do know that it:
- seems to be a slight glitch in the way the brain plans speaking;
- often runs in families;
- often starts quickly without warning (though not always);
- sometimes happens when children start putting two or more words together; and
- can get worse if the child is excited or tired.
Many pre-schoolers who stutter recover naturally – more than half according to some researchers. The problem is we can’t predict which children will recover naturally and which children will stutter into adolescence and adulthood, when stuttering becomes much harder to treat.
It’s a good idea to seek treatment for stuttering if your child:
- has been stuttering for more than 6 months;
- is going or is about to go to school: research tells us it might become harder to treat later (Onslow & O’Brian 2013) and a child who stutters is more likely to be bullied by schoolmates than a child who does not stutter; and/or
- is frustrated, distressed and/or is starting to withdraw from speaking.
It’s also a good idea to seek treatment if you are really worried about it and/or if stuttering runs in your family.
Stuttering is not caused by anxiety or nervousness. But, in the long term, stuttering might cause some children to become anxious or suffer other psychological problems (Iverach et al., 2009) or problems at school (O’Brian et al., 2011). Left untreated, it could even hurt long term job and relationship prospects (Klein et al., 2004).
The good news
We’ve got some great evidence-based treatments for children who stutter that have been proven by clinical trials to work for pre-schoolers and school-age children.
The treatment with the best evidence at the moment is called the Lidcombe Program, after the Sydney suburb in which it was developed by researchers from Sydney University. The Lidcombe Program has been shown to give pre-school children who stutter a 7-8 times better chance of recovery than if we do nothing and wait.
There are some other treatments supported by promising research results. For example, you might have heard of syllable-timed speech, also known as the Westmead Program or “robot talking”, which seems to work well for pre-schoolers who complete the treatment.
- My pre-schooler stutters and has problems with speech sounds: which one should I treat first?
- 5 ways for teachers to help children who stutter – tips from people who stutter themselves
- The Lidcombe Program for stuttering: my 10 favourite therapy activities
- Lidcombe Program Stuttering Activities: Volume 2 (10 low-prep printable activities for face-to-face and Skype therapy)
- Stuttering treatments: what works for whom? An evidence update
- My child stutters. Is it because he’s shy? sensitive? hyper?
- My school-age child stutters. What should I do?
- Online stuttering therapy
- Why does the Lidcombe Program for childhood stuttering work: a case of “words will never hurt me”?
- Now you can get treatment for your child’s stuttering without all those clinic visits
- The more the merrier? New study on Lidcombe Program group therapy for children
- FAQ: Cluttering
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