Stuttering In Children: Symptoms, Causes, Risks And Treatment

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When a child involuntarily interrupts their flow of speech and tends to repeat or prolong sounds, syllables, or words while speaking, it is called stuttering or stammering. Stuttering in children is a speech difficulty that usually starts between three and five years and affects their language and motor performance.

Studies suggest that 90% of children who stutter recover during childhood. However, if a child grows up with a stutter, they are susceptible to social ridicule and bullying (1) (2). Thus, prompt diagnosis and interventions are crucial to help resolve stuttering and normalize speech.

Read this post to learn more about the symptoms, types, possible causes, risks and complications, and treatment for stuttering in children.

Symptoms Of Stuttering In Children

Identifying stuttering early on in children can help you provide early interventions.

The signs and symptoms of stuttering differ from child to child and may also vary throughout the day. Some common symptoms of stuttering in children include (3) (4).

  • Repeating syllables, words, or sounds; for example, repeating the sound of the first syllable in the word ‘mummy,’ which may sound like mu-mu-mu-mu-my
  • Difficulty starting a word, phrase, or sentence
  • Frequent use of interjections while speaking. You may often hear them using ‘um,’ or ‘like,’ while speaking. For example, your child might say, ‘I want- um, um, um …’
  • Prolonging sounds in words. For example, ‘mmmeet,’ or ‘pppproud.’
  • Difficulty in maintaining continuity in speech
  • Opens their mouth to speak, but no words come out
  • Frequent pauses while speaking.
  • Facial tics and rapid eye blinks while speaking.
  • Increased stuttering when tired, excited, or under stress
  • Shortness of breath, nervousness, or anxiety while talking

Causes And Types Of Stuttering

The exact cause of stuttering is not known. However, researchers believe it could be due to a combination of different factors, including genetics and abnormalities in speech motor control (4).

Stuttering can be broadly classified into three types (1) (3) (5).

  1. Developmental stuttering: This is the most common form of stuttering found in children. Developmental stuttering is identified when the child’s language development lags and they face difficulties in expressing their needs and wants. Evidence suggests that developmental stuttering is due to inherited abnormalities in the nervous system that disrupt fluent speech.
  1. Neurogenic stuttering: Also known as acquired stuttering, this can occur later in life when the child experiences a stroke or a brain injury, which disturbs the signals between the brain, nerves, and muscles that are involved in speech.
  1. Psychogenic stuttering: This form of stuttering is extremely rare and could occur after emotional trauma or develop along with thinking and reasoning issues. 

Risks And Complications Of Stuttering In Children

Boys are two to three times more likely to stutter than girls. The following risk factors are likely to increase the chances of stuttering in children (1) (3) (4) (5).

  • Developmental speech delays and issues
  • A family history of stuttering
  • Stress, such as high parental expectations or disoriented family relations

Stuttering is more than just a speech disorder; it can cause emotional and societal complications, including

  • Fear of openly communicating with others.
  • Nervousness and anxiety to talk.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Avoiding situations that require talking.
  • Bullying or teasing by other children.
  • Poor school performance.
  • Personality disorder.
  • School absenteeism.

When To See A Speech-Language Pathologist

Consult a doctor and a speech-language pathologist if the stuttering (3) (4)

  • Lasts for more than six months.
  • Is accompanied by other speech or language problems.
  • Leads to communication problems at school and in social settings.
  • Causes emotional or anxiety problems.
  • Leads to fear of talking.

Diagnosis Of Stuttering In Children

Your child’s doctor might ask you about your family history and your child’s symptoms. They  would refer your child’s case to a certified speech-language pathologist. This specialist is trained in techniques of speech therapy that may help your child overcome stuttering.

The specialist may ask your child to speak to assess their speech and language abilities and the impact of stuttering on the child. They may also check whether the child’s stuttering has lasted six months or longer and whether the child exhibits other speech or language problems (3) (5).

Treatment For Stuttering In Children

There is no cure for stuttering, but it can be managed through speech therapies. Speech therapy under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist is the primary treatment for stuttering in children. They may also suggest cognitive behaviour therapy and electronic devices to improve fluency (3) (5).

Home Care For Stuttering

Along with the professional treatments, you may try a few home care treatments to help your children deal with stuttering and other complications associated with it (3) (4).

  • Encourage your child to talk slowly.
  • Provide a relaxed and friendly environment for your child to talk.
  • Do not ridicule or joke about your child’s stuttering.
  • Use positive reinforcements such as rewards and praises when your child doesn’t stutter.
  • Explain stuttering to your children and clear their doubts.
  • Explain your child’s condition to teachers to accept and protect your child from bullying in the school.
  • Wait until your child completes a sentence; do not rush them.
  • Do not correct your child at all times; instead, make talking fun and enjoyable for them.
  • Never ignore or react negatively when your child stutters.
  • Help them practice speech therapy techniques without fail.

Stuttering in children is a speech disorder that requires patience, understanding, and effective therapeutic management. Given that the exact cause of stuttering in children is unknown, the condition may not be preventable. But its characteristic signs, such as interrupted sentences, repeated syllables or words, and frequent pauses, can help you recognize it in its early stage and seek timely help. If children with a stuttering problem are given proper treatment and care, they may be able to speak without interruption with continuous practice and support.

Key Pointers

  • Children’s stuttering symptoms include repeating sounds or syllables, trouble maintaining speech, and frequent pauses when speaking.
  • Research suggests environmental factors and abnormalities in speech motor control contribute to stuttering.
  • Low self-esteem, personality disorder, and fear of communicating are possible complications due to this condition.
  • Consult a speech therapist if the stuttering lasts for more than six months or is accompanied by other speech-related problems.
  • Encouraging child to talk slowly, using positive reinforcements and other home care tips as you scroll through.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Hector R. Perez and James H. Stoeckle; Stuttering; The Official Publication Of The College Of Family Physicians Of Canada (2016).
2. Adrian Furnham and Stephen Davis; Involvement of social factors in stuttering: A review and assessment of the current methodology; Europe PMC Author Manuscripts (2008).
3. Stuttering; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)
4. Stuttering; St. Louis Children’s Hospital
5. Stuttering; National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
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Dr. Supriya Mahajan

(DNB, PDCC)
Dr. Supriya Mahajan is a pediatrician and pediatric hepatologist with nine years of experience. She completed her MBBS from Shyam Shah Medical College and diploma from the National Board of Education, New Delhi. She went on to gain specialization in the gut and liver-related diseases in children from the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences and MRCPCH 1, 2 from... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more