Almost all children have difficulty with their speech at some time or another, and as a parent you may worry that your child is not developing properly. Many of these so-called “disfluencies” are perfectly normal and not necessarily evidence of true stuttering. Normal speech patterns in young children include occasional phrases such as “like,” “um,” or “uh,” and brief repetition of words or phrases. These patterns are commonly seen at the same time as a burst in language skills, which often happens in the preschool years.
In contrast to normal speech, stuttered speech consists of specific behaviors like repeating part of the word or syllable (“mo-mo-mo-mother”), prolonging the beginning of the word (“ffffour”), and blocking the word, where the mouth is positioned to say a word but no sound comes out for several seconds.
Children who stutter will often gradually begin to demonstrate other behaviors associated with the stuttering. They may show they are struggling to produce a sound by their facial or body movements, or they may avoid saying previously stuttered words or avoid speaking at all in certain situations.
The development of true stuttering typically begins between 2 and 4 years old. The child might stutter for a while, then stop stuttering, and then it will return, often stronger than before. Boys are 3-4 times more likely to stutter than girls. About 60 percent of people who stutter have a family history of stuttering. Five percent of children will stutter at some point in their development. About 75 percent will outgrow it; however, the chance of spontaneously recovering decreases as a child gets older.
So, when should parents consider receiving help from a speech-language pathologist? If a child has been demonstrating behaviors of stuttering for longer than 3-6 months, an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist is warranted. Also, if a child is concerned or upset about speaking or if the stuttering interferes with daily activities, have your child evaluated as soon as possible. An SLP can help to determine if a child will continue stuttering in the future and if treatment is needed. Early intervention is a key factor in helping children resolve communication difficulties, so parents should not delay in seeking advice from a qualified speech-language pathologist if they have concerns.
- American Speech-Language Hearing Association
The Stuttering Foundation.
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