5 Causes Of Stuttering In Toddlers, Symptoms And Treatment

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Toddlers may sometimes encounter pauses in speech and some levels of disfluencies while speaking, which is a normal aspect of developing communication skills. However, stuttering in toddlers is a phenomenon that could cause concern among many parents. Also, stuttering may last for longer durations in some children and could hamper their social and interactive abilities. Continue reading this post as we tell you about the possible causes of a toddler’s stuttering and ways to treat the condition.

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.

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.

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.

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 (4).

What Are The Symptoms Of Stuttering?

Following are the symptoms of stuttering (5):

  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (5):

  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.

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.

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 (8). Ensuring that you stay alert to the shortcomings in your toddler’s speech is the best way to help your toddler overcome it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. At what age should a child stop stuttering?

According to Nationwide Children’s, stuttering usually begins between 18 months and five years of age. About 75 to 80% of children who stutter will stop doing so within 12 to 24 months without speech therapy (9).

2. Is stuttering considered autism in toddlers?

Children with autism can have speech issues such as stammering or stuttering (10). However, if a toddler stutters, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are autistic. Remember, stuttering isn’t a sign of autism, and not all autistic children stutter.

3. When should I worry about my three-year-old stuttering?

According to the American Academy Of Pediatrics (AAP), “about 5% of all children are likely to be disfluent at some point in their development, usually between ages 2 ½ and 5 (11). Hence, a parent should not worry about their child stuttering unless they notice their child (12):

  • struggle to talk or have facial tension
  • avoid situations where they have to talk
  • avoid saying certain sounds or words

Stuttering in toddlers can be cured with the help of timely medical intervention, and the child will be able to overcome the condition successfully. But it is vital that you support your little one during the process and boost their confidence by helping them understand that stuttering should not limit their opportunities or their ability to do anything. There are no stated ways that could help prevent the occurrence of stuttering. However, being aware of the symptoms and consulting a speech therapist immediately in case of any shortcomings can help deal with the condition in your toddler.

References:

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Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo did MBA from Osmania University and holds a certificate in Developmental Psychology from The University of Queensland. The zoologist-botanist turned writer-editor has 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... more

Dr. Anuradha Bansal

(MD)
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