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A Parent’s Guide to Stuttering

MBSA wishes to thank Sue Bryson, TALK Speech Pathologist for preparing the following article. 

Some things we know about stuttering in children….

Stuttering is a speech problem; it is not a psychological or emotional problem.

It is not caused by anything to do with parenting, nor do children learn or copy it from other children or adults. Stuttering is not caused by shyness, not imitated and is not linked to intelligence.

You have done nothing to cause the stutter to appear, a stuttering child is no different from any other child except for their difficulty with making the words come out.

Stuttering appears to have a genetic component. There is a tendency for children to inherit the potential to stutter from parents or grandparents. Around one half to two thirds of people who stutter report that they have a relative who also stutters.

Stuttering normally begins in the third or fourth year of life – about 2 or 3 years old. More boys stutter than girls, at a ratio of about 4 to 1. 

Stuttering may begin gradually, slowly becoming more severe over days or weeks, or it may appear overnight. People who stutter have problems with the flow of their speech. 

Young children mastering their developing speech and language skills sometimes appear to go through “patches” where they repeat words (“Can – can- can I have an ice cream?”) or repeat phrases (“Mummy I – Mummy I – Mummy I -I want the blue shoes,”) while they are formulating their conversation.

Excitement, tiredness or illness can make these periods of repetition longer (more repetitions) and more frequent. 

Signs that your child may need some assistance in gaining control of their flow of speech include:

  • Repeating the first sound in words, eg “p-p-please.” (called a repetition)
  • Silence as the child tries to speak (called a “block”)
  • Prolonging a sound in a word eg “Wha-a-a-a-at’s that?” (called a prolongation)
  • Head and facial movements such as profuse blinking, going red in the face or a change in the pitch of the child’s voice may accompany these behaviours. (referred to as “secondary stuttering characteristics”)

Another feature of early stuttering is that the severity will fluctuate- the severity or type of stutter can alter markedly across days or weeks. 

The stutter may even disappear completely for days. The majority of children will show a variation in the number of stutters across different situations or times of the day.

Some children are very aware they are having difficulty, and will comment that they cannot get the word out, or even put their hand over their mouth. Other children are very unconcerned that anything may sound different.

Stuttering responds far better to treatment in children than in adults.

Early intervention is extremely effective in controlling stuttering. 

Many children will stop stuttering naturally. However, we have no way of predicting for an individual child whether stuttering will persist or get better. 

Generally, the best way to help a child who may be stuttering is to wait for them to finish what they want to say, and to treat them the same as all other children.

Treatment for stuttering is simple and effective. Waiting to tackle a stuttering problem in later life can be much harder than when a child is young.