Many of us have struggled with stuttering at one point in our lives, or have known someone who has. For many children, stuttering is simply a natural part of learning language and putting sentences together, and they’ll eventually outgrow it. For others, it may persist throughout their life.
As a parent, it can be frustrating and upsetting to watch your child struggle to communicate. You may be asking yourself questions like, “Is this just a phase?” “Should I be concerned enough to get professional help?” “How will this affect my child’s social and emotional development?”
While stuttering is often developmental, it can also be a chronic condition that persists into adulthood. This type of stuttering often has an impact on self-esteem and interactions with other people.
Whether you’re a parent of a young child who stutters, or an adult seeking guidance and support, we’ve put together this informational guide below to help answer your questions about stuttering, common signs and symptoms, how it’s treated, and more.
Stuttering, sometimes called stammering or disfluency, is a communication disorder that disrupts that natural flow of speech. Stuttering can begin gradually and develop over time, or it can appear suddenly. People who stutter often repeat certain syllables, words, or phrases (li-li-like this), prolong them (lllllike this), or experience abnormal stoppages of certain sounds and syllables.
According to Stanford’s Children’s Hospital, there are several types of stuttering:
According to the Stuttering Foundation, over 3 million people in the United States stutter.
Approximately 5% of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more. As many as 75% of those children will recover by late childhood. Those who continue to stutter into school-age years are likely to have a more serious problem and continue to stutter in some way throughout their lives.
In older adults, approximately 2% of the population between the ages of 21 and 49 stutters, and less than 2% of adults ages 50 and over.
Stuttering is also much more common in males than females, with males being about 4x more likely to have stuttering issues.
Every person is different, and therefore the symptoms of stuttering can vary considerably. However, here are some of the most common signs to look for:
For many children and adults, stuttering itself isn’t the worst part of the condition - it’s the impact on their daily lives. When people stutter, they feel like they’ve lost control of one of their most basic functions, and this can be humiliating, uncomfortable, and unnerving. This can lead them to experience anxiety about speaking, be less active or involved in the classroom or at work, avoid social interactions, and be fearful that they’ll be teased or embarrassed.
For older children and adults, these effects can often be exacerbated. Many avoid social situations all together, and experience constant frustration and embarrassment associated with their verbal communication. Stuttering adults can be stereotyped as being shy, self-conscious, or lacking confidence.
Ironically enough, many of our natural coping mechanisms can actually worsen stuttering. For example, people often try to avoid stuttering by speaking quickly, or by not speaking at all. These behaviors can increase the likelihood of stuttering.
Unfortunately, doctors and scientists do not know the exact cause of stuttering. However, many experts believe there are several risk factors that contribute to stuttering. If any of these situations apply to you, it’s especially important that you speak with a doctor or speech-language pathologist (SLP).
As with most developmental issues, the best prevention is often early intervention.
Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your child's stuttering. In many cases, your doctor may refer you to a specialist known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), which are the most qualified professionals to help evaluate and determine whether your child is at risk for long-term problems.
Signs to look for that suggest your child’s stuttering is more severe and you should have them evaluated include:
Older children and adults whose lives are impacted by stuttering should also speak with their doctor or an SLP. Oftentimes, achieving better communication and coping strategies to manage stuttering is a lifelong process.
Despite breakthroughs in our knowledge and understanding of stuttering, unfortunately there is still no therapy, device, or drug that can “cure” stuttering. However, early treatment can prevent stuttering from continuing into adulthood. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the severity of the condition.
To diagnose and treat stuttering, your doctor may ask questions about your family history with stuttering and review stuttering symptoms. In many cases, they will refer you to a speech therapist.
Your speech therapist will ask questions about your child’s speech, and test your child’s ability to speak with different techniques and in different situations. It’s important to realize that every child is unique, and certain methods that benefit some individuals may not work for others. Therefore, your speech therapist will work with you and your child to develop an individualized treatment plan to help your child speak more fluently and without disruptions, and also to cope with their symptoms.
For older children and adults, treatment focuses on managing stuttering. A speech therapist will help them feel less tense and speak more freely in school, at work, and in different social settings. These strategies can help individuals face speaking situations head on that make them nervous or uncomfortable, such as speaking on the phone or ordering food at a restaurant.
Other potential therapies and treatments include:
One of the most effective tools children have to manage their stuttering is you - their parents. Numerous studies show parents play an essential role in helping their child reach their speech and language goals. Parents spend the most time with their child, and there’s many simple techniques and exercises you can do everyday to help your child.
While we’ve provided a few tips below, be sure your speech therapist empowers you with the tools and knowledge to take an active role in your child’s progress.
Expressable matches families with a certified speech therapist trained to effectively evaluate and treat stuttering and fluency disorders. All therapy is delivered online via face-to-face video conferencing.
Your child’s age and development will influence how your speech therapist interacts with them through these video chat capabilities.
Ages 0-3: Parents work directly with their speech therapist to learn cues and at-home strategies so they can confidently practice with their child outside the session and improve their communication. For more information on the importance of parental involvement in their child’s speech therapy, click here.
Ages 3-6: Parents attend video sessions alongside their child so they both learn valuable skills from their speech therapist. Reinforcing these lessons outside the session will continue to promote at-home skill building.
Ages 7 and Up: Most children attend video sessions independently but parents are kept in the loop with updates and tips during each session.
Adults: Adults attend sessions by themselves, but are welcome to bring loved ones or family members as well.
Expressable is an online speech therapy practice committed to expanding access to quality services for everyone with a communication disorder. Expressable has pioneered a parent-focused care model that uses technology and education to integrate speech therapy techniques into children’s daily lives, improving outcomes and experiences.