The precise cause of stuttering is not known but most experts agree that it is likely caused by a combination of factors including genetic factors, developmental factors and environmental factors. We do know that stuttering is not caused by emotional problems and it is not a “nervous” disorder. We also know that stuttering is not the fault of the family or the person who stutters.
Stuttering typically starts between the ages of 2½ and 5 when normal disfluencies including whole word repetitions (you you you) and beginning word repetitions (wwwwhat) occur. Normal disfluencies tend to come and go and are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning.
Suggestions for helping your child through these periods of normal disfluencies include:
- Wait patiently for your child to finish what they want to say
- Don’t finish your child’s sentences
- Model a slow and relaxed conversational tempo for your child
- Don’t tell your child to “slow down” or relax
- Don’t draw attention to the disfluencies or stuttering behaviors
- Pay attention to what your child is saying, not “how” they are saying it
A majority of children move through these periods of disfluency without difficulty, however some children demonstrate more persistent difficulty that is accompanied by signs of tension and avoidance.
Risk factors for developing a stuttering disorder include:
- a family history of stuttering
- stuttering that has continued for 6 months or longer
- presence of other speech or language disorders
- strong fears or concerns about stuttering on the part of the child or the family
Early intervention is the most effective way to help children overcome their speaking difficulties, so it is important for parents and pediatricians to seek an evaluation by a qualified speech-language pathologist as soon as they become concerned about a child’s stuttering.
School-age children, adolescents, and adults can also benefit from treatment. For these individuals, treatment is designed to help them learn to manage their stuttering, increase their speech fluency, and improve their self-esteem and their self-confidence.