Stuttering is defined as a disruption in the normal flow and pattern of speech.Another often used term is disfluency.These disruptions can occur on sounds, syllables, or words.Often these disfluencies in speech are accompanied by struggling or avoidance behaviors that the child has developed to help them get through the stuttering moment.These physical behaviors are the secondary characteristics of stuttering.

It is not uncommon for young children to have disfluencies in their speech.In fact, about 5% of all children are likely to stutter at some point in their development. It is also very normal for children to fluctuate between periods of fluency and disfluency.Sometimes no reason is apparent, but often it is because the child is excited, tired, or feels rushed or pressured to speak.

If you listen to the speech of others around you, it becomes apparent that no one has perfectly fluent speech.The difference between their speech and the stuttering child is the amount of tension associated with the disfluency.Common types of disfluencies found in both normal speech and stuttering are as follows:

  • Single Word Repetition – Repeating a single word in a sentence. (I-I-I-I want to go outside.)
  • Phrase Repetition – Repeating a phrase within a sentence. (I want- I want- I want-I want some more juice.)
  • Syllable Repetition – Repeating a syllable within a word or sentence. (I want to hold the ba-ba-ba-baby.)
  • Blocking – Trying to get the syllable or sound out, but getting stuck, making no noise. (I love to eat ice (silence) cream.)
  • Prolongation – Holding the first sound of a word or syllable, with difficulty moving to the next sound. (Tonight I have no ho______mework.)

Secondary Characteristics of stuttering develop when the stutterer tries to prevent or break out of disfluent episodes.Examples of secondary characteristics may include unusual breathing patterns, eye blinks or fixed stare, tension in a part of the body or articulators (tongue, lips, teeth), to name a few.You may notice these behaviors in more stressful speaking situations, such as when a word or sound is perceived to be hard to say, or because that word or sound is a “trigger” for stuttering.

A child who stutters may also resort to avoidance or escape behaviors due to fear of sounds, words, people or speaking situations.For example, they may talk around a certain word (circumlocution), substitute a different word, delay a comment, interject starter words or sounds, (“Um”, “Ah”, “You know”), cover their mouth, avoid eye contact, refuse to speak, or use vocal abnormalities (speaking quickly, in a whisper, slowly, in a monotone, or with an accent.

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown, but experts agree that it is probably caused by a combination of factors.

  • Genetics – It is believed genetics plays a part as stuttering tends to run in families.
  • Developmental Factors – During pre-school years, a child’s physical, social/emotional, and speech and language skills are developing at a rapid rate.This rapid development can lead to stuttering in children who are predisposed to it.
  • Environmental Factors – These can include parental attitudes and expectations, the child’ speech and language environment, and stressful life events.
  • Fear and anxiety of stuttering – Fear or anxiety over the event can cause it to continue or worsen.

When determining if a child is stuttering, the number of disfluencies present in a child’s speech is an important factor.A general rule of more than 10 stuttered words out of 100 may indicate a problem. As you can see, other factors must be considered as well, so only a trained Speech Pathologist is qualified to make a definite diagnosis.

Handy Hints for Helping at Home:

  • The best way to help a child who stutters is to work closely with his/her speech pathologist.

Other things to do:

  • Don’t finish his/her sentence.The stutterer knows what they want to say and generally do not like their sentences finished for them.This elevates the stress level.
  • Wait patiently for the stutterer to finish.Don’t rush the stutterer.Provide adequate wait time for them to complete the thought.
  • Watch your body language.Stutterers are very aware of non-verbal reactions to their speech.
  • Provide a calm and non-threatening communication attitude which allows the stutterer to feel at ease.

For more specific ideas on how to recognize and best respond to the stuttering child, contact your school Speech Pathologist.