Stuttering In Toddlers: Causes, Treatment And Tips To Help Them

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Toddlers often display some speech disfluency, or break in the speech, owing to their developing communication skills. However, sometimes a toddler may have a remarkably different disfluency that lasts longer than it should. One such irregularity in speech is stuttering, which affects the child’s communication skills.

But what causes a toddler to stutter? Can stuttering in toddlers be treated? Find the answers to these questions and more in this MomJunction article about stuttering in toddlers.

What Is Stuttering?

Stuttering is the disfluency of speech caused by repeated use of syllables, words, and sounds (1). Since the toddler repeats words or phrases, stuttering leads to a chronic break in speech.

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How Common Is Stuttering Among Toddlers?

According to the US National Institute of Health, about one in 20 children develop stuttering. The probability of stuttering is the highest between the ages two and five years. Stuttering is also more common in boys than girls.

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Can Stuttering Happen Suddenly?

Yes. Stuttering can happen suddenly. A toddler, who did not stutter before, may develop it overnight (2). It can also build up gradually.

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[ Read: Dyspraxia In Toddlers ]

What Causes Stuttering In Toddlers?

Stuttering can be due to (3):

  1. A family history: Toddlers who have family members with a stutter are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Faulty genes associated with stuttering can transmit the speech disorder across generations.
  1. Brain injuries: Suffering a trauma to the brain may result in stuttering, referred to as acquired stuttering or neurogenic stuttering.
  1. Emotional shock: Shock or trauma may increase the risk of stuttering in toddlers. Such a condition is called psychogenic stuttering. Family discordance or change in surroundings can also precipitate stuttering.
  1. Neurological disorders: Problems with the nervous system can cause stuttering. An example is Tourette syndrome where a person has repeated, involuntary movements of face or other parts of the body. Neurological problems like a brain tumor can also lead to stuttering.
  1. Other speech disorders: Stuttering often co-exists with other speech and language disorders that a toddler might have.

If your toddler is positive to any of the above causes, then look out for any signs of stuttering because the first signs of stuttering can emerge between the age of 18 and 24 months (5).

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What Are The Symptoms Of Stuttering?

Following are the symptoms of stuttering (4):

  • Repetition of phrases and sounds: Example, “I want my t-t-toys!”, “The tree has a ne-ne-nest.”
  • Prolongation of sounds: Example, “The tortoise walks sssslow.”
  • Blank moments while talking: There are going to be repeated blocks. When speaking a sentence, a toddler would pause awkwardly, because of their inability to speak comfortably further.
  • Collateral traits: A stuttering toddler may often twitch their lips, move their jaw awkwardly, or blink repeatedly.
  • Frustration and anxiety while speaking: Since the toddler is unable to communicate their feelings properly, they associate speaking with frustration and annoyance.

Some parents may feel that the symptoms mentioned above are normal during speech development of the toddler. However, a stuttering toddler’s speech differs from a disfluent one’s.

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How To Differentiate Stuttering From Normal Disfluency?

Here is how you can distinguish stuttering from normal disfluency (6).

Normal disfluencyStuttering
Lasts less than six monthsLasts longer than six months
Uses fillers like “um,” “eh,” and “like” to cover pauseNo use of fillers while pausing
Repeats words than soundsRepeats sounds and syllables rather than words
No wavering of the pitch of the voiceThe pitch may rise with repetition of the word or sounds, and the child may have voice gaps or blocks in between.
No frustration, anxiety, or tension while talkingToddler seems tensed and frustrated when talking
No secondary/collateral traits like blinking of the eyes and twitching of the mouthDisplays other secondary traits like twitching of eyes and mouth

If you are unable to differentiate the symptoms or suspect a problem with your toddler’s speech, consult a doctor.

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[ Read: What Causes Tongue Tie In Toddlers ]

When To Visit A Doctor For A Toddler’s Stuttering?

Do not wait if you suspect that your child is stuttering. Depending on the toddler’s condition, a pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric speech-language pathologist. An analysis by the pathologist can help diagnose the toddler’s stuttering problem.

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How Is Stuttering In Toddlers Diagnosed?

A speech-language therapist will use the following procedures to diagnose stuttering in toddlers (7):

  1. Review the condition: The pathologist will check for how long the condition has persisted, whether someone else in the family has the stutters and if the child has any other speech disorders. The doctor will also consider any brain injuries that the toddler has had in the past.
  1. Observation of symptoms: Simple speech exercises would help the pathologist observe the signs of stuttering and its intensity.
  1. Overall speech development of the toddler: A toddler with normal disfluency can comfortably reach other speech and language milestones of their life. However, those with stuttering may not.

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How Is Stuttering In Toddlers Treated?

Basic speech changes and long-term therapy are used to rectify stuttering. The treatment is a systematic approach involving a combination of therapeutic procedures and language modification and varies as per the severity of the toddler’s stuttering. The two salient steps include (8):

  1. Speech modification: A pathologist trains the toddler to make subtle changes in the language to minimize the chances of stuttering. These include the use of words and phrases that a toddler can say better. A modified communication style is suggested to the parents to best suit a stuttering toddler. Young toddlers can benefit from speech intervention and may be cured sooner.
  1. Long-term therapy: This involves teaching the toddler to deal with triggers, using short sentences, and methods to avoid a prolonged pause in speech. Therapy sessions are often conducted in groups and work at instilling confidence in the toddlers.

The treatment is a systematic approach involving a combination of therapeutic procedures and language modification and varies as per the severity of the toddler’s stuttering.

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How Can Parents Help A Toddler Who Stutters?

Parents can play a crucial role in toning down the intensity of a toddler’s stutter. Here is how:

  • Speak to the toddler calmly. Use a slow and relaxed speech to communicate with your toddler; use pauses when you talk. Use shorter sentences that seem less demanding of an answer (“So you had fun at the park!”) instead of questions (“So what did you do in the park today?”).
  • Rely on facial expressions and body language. If a nod or wave of the hand can do the work, then avoid using words. It can help cut down the number of stuttering triggers for a toddler.
  • Have patience. When your toddler stutters, do not ask them to complete the sentence quickly or interrupt to complete the word they are struggling to pronounce. Also, do not tell the toddler to slow their speed of talking. A toddler may perceive stuttering to be wrong, which in turn could increase stress.
  • Do not let the toddler feel conscious about stuttering. Avoid pointing out to stutter. It can hurt the little one’s self-confidence and deter them from sharing their feelings.
  • Tell your toddler that stuttering should not limit them. Older toddlers may seem frustrated to communicate with their peers. Encourage them to talk to their friends more, regardless of their stutter. Helping the toddler cope with the condition every day also aids the speech therapy that they are undergoing.

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[ Read: What Are The Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers ]

How To Prevent Stuttering In Toddlers?

There is no way to prevent stuttering in toddlers since it is caused by reasons that are not entirely understood (9). Ensuring that you stay alert to the shortcomings in your toddler’s speech is the best way to help your toddler overcome it.

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Stuttering may seem disconcerting, but remember that timely intervention ensures the toddler outgrows the condition. When in doubt, speak to a pediatrician. Once on a path of treatment, there is nothing to stop your toddler from growing and excelling in life.

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Dr. Anuradha Bansal

Dr. Anuradha Bansal is a pediatrician and neonatologist working as assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at PIMS Jalandhar. She has done her MBBS and MD Pediatrics at GMCH, Chandigarh. Thereafter, she polished her skills as senior resident at MAMC, Delhi. She has also done IAP Fellowship in Neonatology at GMCH, Chandigarh and obtained the membership of the prestigious... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more