What is stuttering?


Stuttering in children: Overview

Stuttering is a type of speech problem. In some cases, a child repeats words or sounds or makes them longer than normal. Other times, a child skips words or sounds.

The cause of stuttering is not known. But it is thought to be caused when the brain has trouble sending and receiving messages for speech. It often gets worse at stressful times, such as when a child speaks in public. It often does not happen when the child sings, whispers, talks while alone or to pets, or reads aloud with a group.

Sometimes stuttering gets better on its own. But some types probably will not get better without treatment. Treatment can be helpful even for short-term stuttering.

Treatment often includes speech therapy for the child and education for parents. Speech therapy can help your child learn speech and language skills. It can also help your child feel better about the way they speak. The more you know about speech development, the better you can help your child at home.


Stuttering is a speech problem that interferes with normal word patterns. A person who stutters involuntarily repeats, draws out, does not complete, or skips sounds or words when speaking.

A person who stutters may:

  • Repeat sounds, parts of words, and sometimes entire words.
  • Pause between words or within a word.
  • Use a different word in place of a word that's hard to speak.
  • Use incomplete phrases.
  • Show obvious tension or discomfort while talking. Other physical symptoms may occur, such as eye-blinking or head-nodding.
  • Make parenthetical remarks. This means a person who is talking seems to abruptly change subject matter. For example, a person may say, "I wonder if it will. . .where is the dog?"

Stuttering associated with normal speech development is called typical disfluency and usually goes away on its own before puberty. More severe forms of stuttering, called developmental stuttering, usually do not resolve without treatment.

What are the symptoms of stuttering?

Children who stutter may:

  • Repeat sounds, parts of words, and sometimes entire words.
  • Draw out (prolong) a sound or syllable. For example, a child may say "I am fffive years old."
  • Try to say a word or form a sound, but no sound comes out. They may also pause between words or within a word.
  • Use a different word in place of a word that's hard to speak.
  • Show tension or discomfort while talking.
  • Use only parts of phrases.
  • Add words or phrases that aren't related.

You may notice that your child stutters more when excited, anxious, stressed, or tired. Answering questions or explaining something complex may trigger or increase stuttering.

The same is true for teens and adults. It tends to get worse at stressful times. It often doesn't occur during activities like singing, whispering, talking alone or to pets, or reading aloud.

How is stuttering treated in children?

Treatment for stuttering often includes speech therapy for the child and the involvement of the people closest to them. The speech therapist can help your child speak more smoothly. And the therapist will teach others, such as parents and teachers, how to best help the child at home and at school.

The speech therapist can help you understand how speech develops and teach you how to relate to your child in a positive way. You'll also learn how to help your child at home by using proper eye contact and body language when your child is trying to talk to you.

Speech therapy is important, especially if your child's stuttering lasts, gets worse, or is severe. Working with a speech therapist can help your child master certain speech and language skills and feel better about their ability to speak.

Remember that when stuttering begins in early childhood, it tends to go away on its own. If you think your child's stuttering is not typical disfluency, talk with your child's doctor.

People who stutter may find both speech therapy and counseling helpful. Counseling can help them manage anxiety, low self-esteem, and other problems that can make stuttering worse.

How is stuttering diagnosed?

A speech therapist can usually diagnose stuttering by talking with your child. The speech therapist may film or record the child talking or may check speech patterns in other ways. Your child may also need a physical exam and other tests to rule out health problems that affect speech development, such as hearing problems.

Talk with your child's doctor if you have any concerns about your child's speech, if stuttering lasts more than 6 to 12 months, or if stuttering runs in your family.

If you are an adult who has started to stutter, see your doctor. Stuttering that starts in an adult is most often linked to an injury, a health problem, or severe emotional trauma. To diagnose the problem, the doctor will do a physical exam, ask you some questions, and watch and listen to you speak.

How can you care for your child who stutters?

  • Speak calmly and slowly. Pause often when you talk to your child. Use short, simple sentences.
  • Have quiet time alone with your child each day. Let your child direct the activities, including conversation. Show that you enjoy this time together. This can help your child's confidence.
  • Be polite when your child speaks. Try not to criticize, interrupt, or ask too many questions. Give your child the time and attention needed to express thoughts and ideas.
  • Try not to correct your child.
  • Use positive expressions and body language when you listen to your child. When your child stutters, show that you are focused on the message and not on how they talk.
  • Help all family members learn good communication skills. Encourage everyone to listen closely when talking with your child who stutters.
  • Let your child know that you accept them no matter what. This is one of the best things you can do to help your child overcome stuttering.
  • Think about writing down how your child's speech patterns improve or change. Your doctor or speech therapist can help you know what to look for and how to track progress.

What causes stuttering?

Stuttering is thought to be caused when the brain has trouble sending and receiving messages for speech. Doctors don't know why this happens.

Stuttering may run in the family. It may be triggered by things like stress or feeling frustrated.

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech problem in which a person may repeat, draw out, not complete, or skip words or sounds without meaning to. The problem can range from mild to severe.

Stuttering that starts during a child's early language-learning years (ages 2 through 7 years) and goes away on its own before puberty is called typical disfluency. It's a normal part of language development. Most children aren't bothered by it and may not even notice that they're doing it. This type of stuttering may come and go for a while. Then it may slowly decrease until it doesn't happen anymore.

Stuttering that lasts or gets worse over time is called developmental stuttering. This type of stuttering can be embarrassing and hard to deal with. It probably won't get better without treatment.

Stuttering in children: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are worried about your child's behavior.
  • Your child is not making progress as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.