Pediatric Stuttering: What is It, Why is It, and When to Seek Help
Stuttering can be seen during everyday conversation. We all get tripped up on words, and chances are that most individuals went through a period of stuttering during childhood development. Often, parents will begin to raise eyebrows if they hear their child stuttering. Most people don’t know that stuttering is a natural process of acquiring speech and language. Where there is confusion is whether the stuttering being observed is developmental or chronic, but how can we tell?
Stuttering occurs between 2-6 years of age. Many children (between 50-80%) spontaneously recover (i.e., recover without treatment) from stuttering within 2-3 months. Additionally, girls are more likely to spontaneously recover than boys with the prevalence of stuttering within genders favoring males in a 3:1 ratio. While there are differences in stuttering prevalence among males and females, there is no indication of differences in stuttering among various geographical, cultural, racial, or bilingual groups. The onset of secondary behaviors and more variety of stuttering can often be a clue as to whether the stuttering is developmental or chronic, but how can we differentiate the two?
Chronic stuttering can be characterized by many factors. Stuttering occurs most on the first word of an utterance in the form of a block (a silent pause), part-word repetitions (D-d-do), prolongation (Nnnnnnno), and one-syllable word repetitions (But, but, but, but). Stuttering is more likely to occur on words beginning with consonants than with vowels and children will stutter more often on pronouns and conjunctions, whereas adults tend to stutter more on nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Chronic stuttering may be accompanied by secondary characteristics such as tension (head jerks, eyes closes, facial contortions) and pitch breaks to push the word out or adjust in the moment of stuttering.
Yairi and Ambrose, (2005) found the following characteristics to be indicators of recovery from stuttering: No relatives who stutter, female, decreasing secondary behaviors, few reactions to stuttering by the child, an onset of stuttering at 2 or 3, and no delays in phonological development (the acquisition of sounds at an appropriate age). Similarly, Yairi and Ambrose identified indicators of the persistence of stuttering in the following characteristics: A family history of persistent stuttering, male, increasing severity of stuttering, the child is stuttering more than 1-year post-onset, increasing occurrence of secondary characteristics, strong reactions to stuttering, later onset of stuttering at ages 3-4, and delays in phonological development.
If you become increasingly concerned about your child’s stuttering, seek an evaluation from a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to determine how to move forward. If the SLP believes intervention is necessary, most will recommend a multi-faceted approach that includes direct intervention with the child while working with the family to identify ways they can modify home life to promote fluency. For more information about stuttering, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website at https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering/
-Eddie Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP
Yairi, E., N. Ambrose, and N. Grinager. "Early childhood stuttering. Austin: Pro-Ed." (2005).