Stuttering in children
Stuttering is a speech disorder without a fully understood medical cause. It's characterized by the repetition of sounds, syllables or words resulting in hesitations and interruptions in speech. This often makes it challenging to communicate and frustrating for individuals who stutter. They know what they want to say but cannot get the words out fluently. These children can show signs of physical distress or even try to hide stuttering by avoiding speaking.
Stuttering happens most often in young children, ages 2 to 5, but a minority (25% of those who stutter as children) will continue into adulthood. Experts approximate that 5% of children will stutter as they learn a language, and stuttering is more common in boys and those with a family history.
The best advice for a caregiver with concerns about stuttering is to have the child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Several studies show improvement in stuttering if therapy and coaching are started by an SLP in the preschool years. Stuttering lasting more than 6 weeks is another indication for such a referral.
In addition, suggestions from The Stuttering Foundation to help children with fluency and stuttering include allowing a child more time to speak, slowing down the pace, full listening without interruptions or corrections, simplifying your own words, resisting asking one question after another and building confidence with praise.
For more information, please visit The Stuttering Foundation's website.
Jessica M. Davis, M.D., is a physician in Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and practices general pediatrics along with clinical care in the Integrated Community Specialties Pediatric Developmental Clinic. Her interests include expanding access to care for children with autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays and reducing bias and ableism — discrimination in favor of able-bodied people — in healthcare.