Over the years, a few Mom friends have come to me about their toddler’s or preschooler’s stuttering. The question is always: Should I worry? Then recently, a mom in a local Facebook group posted about this exact topic. There were many comments from other parents that had experienced the same thing and their child did eventually stop stuttering. Inspired by this post, I wanted to create a resource for those worried parents.
First, lets review what stuttering is. Stuttering is anything that disrupts the fluency in ones speech (stuttering is also namely called dysfluency). There are many types of these dyfluent events. They are:
- repetition of words (e.g., “The the the big one”)
- repetition of sounds/syllables (e.g., “bababababy” for “baby” )
- sound prolongations (e.g., “sssssssnake”)
- blocks (also called inaudible sound prolongations where there is an inability to initiate sounds)
- phrase repetitions (e.g., “I want I want that one”).
- interjections, or fillers in ones speech such as “um” and “uh.”
Phrase repetitions and interjections/fillers are part of normal dysfluency, meaning that this occurs in the general population without a stuttering disorder. Think about it, how many times as you are responding to your children while thinking about something else did you, uh, uh, uh stutter while you shifted your attention to what they were talking about. It happens ALL THE TIME. The other types of dysfluencies are not considered part of normal dysfluency and are “atypical.”
Now, lets get to the facts about young children and stuttering. Once a child starts to string multiple words together, approximately 8.5% of them will start to have periods of dysfluency (Reilly et al., 2009). They include all of the types of dysfluencies mentioned above. However, in approximately 70-80% of children the the atypical stuttering events eventually do disappear without formal intervention (Yairi & Seery, 2011). Even for those children whose stuttering is severe initially. For the children whose stuttering does not disappear, research has shown that there are certain factors that elevate the risk that the stuttering events will continue and become a stuttering disorder. Factors that contribute to an this risk include:
- being male
- stuttering for 6-12 months or longer
- language delays/disorders
- Relative with a stuttering disorder
- A mismatch between the child’s language skills and motor skills (advanced language & typical/lower motor skills or advanced motor skills and typical/lower language skills)
- A child who has a sensitive and reactive temperament
- Parental reactions to stuttering behaviors are negative or fearful (please see below for a link that discusses ways to talk with your child who is stuttering)
The problem is, however, even without all the risk factors a child’s stuttering can become a stuttering disorder OR a child who has all the risk factors can stop. There is no guarantee. That’s why it is so important to see a Speech-Language Pathologist to evaluate these risk factors and follow up with them periodically to evaluate the need to start therapy. For example, if a child’s stuttering is increasing over time or they are showing negative behaviors towards their stuttering, it may be beneficial to begin treatment. A therapist familiar developmental stuttering will know what to look for and know what the best plan of action is for your child. Every child, their risk factors, stuttering behaviors and the effects of those on the child are unique. If you would like to get your child evaluated, please contact us.
For tips on how to talk with your child that is stuttering, head on over to the Stuttering Foundation. There is a wealth of information for parents on this site.
Nippold, M. A. (2018). Stuttering in Preschool Children: Direct Versus Indirect Treatment. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch, 49(1), 4-12. doi: 10.1044/2017_LSHSS-17-0066.
Reilly, S., Onslow, M., Packman, A., Wake, M., Bavin, E. L., Prior, M., . . . Ukoumunne, O. C. (2009). Predicting stuttering onset by the age of 3 years: A prospective, community cohort study. Pediatrics, 123(1), 270–277.
Yairi, E., & Seery, C. H. (2011). Stuttering: Foundations and clinical applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
***This post is not meant to diagnose any child. Please see a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist***