Stuttering / dysfluency

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Key points to remember

  • the terms 'stuttering', 'stammering' and 'dysfluency' refer to the same thing
  • fluency refers to the way words usually flow easily and naturally
  • dysfluency (stuttering) refers to speech disruptions such as repetitions (pa..pa..pa..paper), prolongations (mmmmmy…) or periods when the words seem to get stuck and won't come out
  • most children who stutter begin doing so between the ages of two and five years when speech and language is developing
  • many children stutter at some stage and for most of these children, the stuttering resolves by itself (but see When should I seek help?)
  • stuttering can run in families; if a parent or relative stutters, a child has a higher chance of stuttering than someone whose parents or relatives do not

What is stuttering / dysfluency?

Note that the terms ‘stuttering', ‘stammering' and ‘dysfluency' refer to the same thing.

Stuttering is a disorder that affects speech fluency (the way words usually flow easily and naturally). People who stutter know what they want to say, but have trouble saying it because their speech flow is disrupted by any of the following:

  • repeating sounds, words or phrases; for example, pa..pa..pa..paper; super..super..super..supermarket
  • prolonging sounds; for example, mmmmmy…
  • periods during which speech production is blocked with no sound coming out - the words seem to get stuck

During a stutter (or dysfluent moment) some children may make face or body movements such as: grimacing, eye-rolling, blinking or foot stamping. Some children who stutter will use a lot of extra filler words like ‘you' and ‘ah'.

What causes stuttering?

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. It is thought that stuttering may be related to the brain functions that regulate speech production.

Who can develop stuttering?

  • stuttering can run in families; if a parent or relative stutters, a child has a higher chance of stuttering than someone whose parents or relatives do not
  • stuttering is more common in boys

When should I be concerned?

Many children go through a period of stuttering. This often occurs between the ages of two and five years, when their language is rapidly developing and they have a lot to say. They are beginning to talk more like an adult but are not quite ready to do so. The onset of stuttering may be sudden or gradual and is a stage that most children will move through without any cause for concern. However, there are times when you should seek help for your child's stuttering or dysfluency. See When should I seek help?

What are some factors which can affect stuttering?

Stuttering can vary in severity over time, and even throughout a day. A child who stutters may stutter more:

  • when talking about a new topic
  • if using complicated language
  • when excited, tired, or under stress
  • if given limited time to speak
  • if competing to be heard
  • if speaking to someone new

Some children who stutter may feel anxious talking. They may avoid speaking in particular situations (for example, on the phone), using certain words, or speaking with some people.

Some strategies to help fluency

  • follow your child's lead in play and conversation
  • speak more slowly yourself
  • increase pauses - give your child time to respond
  • try not to ask your child too many questions
  • use short, simple sentences
  • maintain eye contact
  • do not interrupt your child or finish sentences for them
  • don't allow others to copy, tease or laugh at your child
  • praise your child for fluent speech; for example, “Wow, that was really smooth talking - well done!”

When should I seek help?

You should discuss your child's stuttering / dysfluency with your family doctor or a speech-language therapist if there are two or more of the following:

  • there is a family history of stuttering
  • your child shows signs of struggle when trying to get the words out; for example, stamping feet, grimacing
  • stuttering lasts for longer than two months
  • your child shows signs of anxiety or frustration about speech
  • the length of each block, hesitation or repetition is more than just a fleeting moment
Speech language therapists are trained to assess and treat stuttering. A speech-language therapist will:
  • firstly talk with you about your concerns, your child's developmental history, any health issues, any significant events including birth history
  • assess your child's communication development, in particular the areas that you are concerned about
  • if required, develop a programme with you which will include strategies that you can use daily with your child, as much as possible within daily routines
  • monitor and review progress and refer to other services (such as audiology), if required

Acknowledgements

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the co-operation of the Ministry of Education.  This fact sheet produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, and adapted from:
Ministry of Education, Special Education. 2000. Much more than words: Monitoring and encouraging communication development in early childhood.

 
This page last reviewed 16 April 2013
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 21 April 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
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