Fluency disorders--or problems with the smoothness of your speech--can be complicated. While there’s still a lot that researchers don’t fully know about stuttering, a wealth of helpful information is available. In this article, we'll review the signs and symptoms of stuttering in children and when to seek speech therapy treatment from a professional. Let’s jump in.
Key statistics about stuttering
Approximately 5% of children will go through some period of stuttering in their development. About 75% of these children are likely to grow out of it without intervention. However, the remaining 25% may need speech therapy. This doesn’t mean that they’re anxious children or that they’re not intelligent. Stuttering is just a part of them, like their hair or eye color.
How do you know if it's a stutter?
Stuttering behaviors can come in many forms. Here’s some information that breaks down what we’d consider more typical disfluencies--which are those that most people experience some of the time--versus less typical disfluencies, which are more commonly observed in people who have a stuttering or fluency disorder.
More typical types of disfluencies:
Repeating phrases and whole words (“But-but-but I want one!”)
Use of filler words (like “um” and “uh”)
No negative reaction or frustration with their disfluencies
No signs of physical tension
Disfluent periods last less than 6 months
No other speech or language difficulties
Less typical types of disfluencies:
Blocked sounds (tries to say a sound, but nothing comes out)
Prolongations (“I ffffffffffeel angry.”)
Repeating sounds or syllables (“I see a b-b-b-baby,” or “I want an a-a-a-a-apple, please.”)
Secondary behaviors (movements such as hand flapping, tapping, blinking, or throat clearing) that coincide with the stuttering
Frustration or negative reaction to stuttering
Disfluent periods last more than 6 months
What are the risk factors for stuttering?
What causes a stutter? Speech-language pathologists look for certain red flags when determining if a child is likely to have persistent stuttering that needs treatment. These include:
A family history of stuttering
Consistent periods of disfluency lasting longer than 6 months
Stuttering starting after age 3½
Delayed/disordered language skills, or advanced language skills
Other speech sound errors, or difficulty being understood
It's also important to note that there is a higher incidence of stuttering in males than females.
When should I contact a speech therapist about stuttering?
Everyone has moments of disfluency. We all trip over our words, repeat ourselves, or say “um.” But for some people, disfluency may start to impact their communication. A certified speech-language pathologist, or speech therapist, is trained to evaluate and treat stuttering and fluency disorders.
If you’re a parent or caregiver to a child who's experiencing bumps in their speech or seems to be stuttering, or if you notice any of the signs listed above, it's recommended that you seek input from a speech therapist.
Learn more about stuttering
For more information about stuttering, including its causes, how it's diagnosed, what treatment may look like, and how to support someone who stutters, check out our resource guide and our video series.