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Stuttering in children

3-minute read

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech disorder that stops the natural rhythm or flow of speech. While most toddlers outgrow stuttering without treatment, any stutter that continues should be treated by a speech pathologist as this significantly reduces the risk of stuttering continuing.

Stuttering (also called stammering) is a pattern of speech that involves hesitations, repetitions or silent blocks (when the child tries to speak but no sound comes out). People who stutter know what they want to say, but have difficulty saying it.

Stuttering can have a strong and negative effect on the stutterer’s view of themselves and their social and work relationships.

It is common for children between the ages of 2 to 5 to go through periods of stuttering. It might start overnight or build up slowly. Some children stutter occasionally, others all the time. It can vary depending on the situation, and might stop for a while and then start again.

For around 70 to 75% of children, this is part of learning to speak, and it gets better on its own. It is rare for adults to begin stuttering.

Symptoms of stuttering

Stuttering signs and symptoms can vary greatly between individuals and may include:

  • difficulty starting a word, sentence or phrase
  • prolonging a word or sounds within a word
  • repetition of a sound, syllable or word
  • brief silence for certain syllables or pauses within a word (broken word)
  • addition of extra words such as 'um' if difficulty moving to the next word is anticipated

Stuttering may also be accompanied by jerks, blinking or tics, and can be worsened by tiredness or stress.

Causes of stuttering

Nobody is certain what causes stuttering. It affects people from all backgrounds, intelligence levels and personalities, although males are more likely to stutter than females. It runs in some families, although it can happen on its own. About 1% of people stutter at any given time.

Stuttering is most likely due to some problem with brain activity that underlies how the child speaks. It is thought to be a physical disorder and is not thought to be caused by psychological factors such as nervousness or stress, or parenting practices. While anxiety does not cause stuttering, it can make it worse, which can then make the anxiety worse.

Treatment of stuttering

Young children benefit most from early intervention with a speech pathologist. Good outcomes have been shown through the Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering, which was developed in Sydney.

Treatment for adolescents and adults both aims to correct the speech and reduce the anxiety that usually goes with it.

When talking with someone who stutters, be patient and show interest in what is being said, rather than how it is being said, and don’t finish their sentences.

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Last reviewed: March 2021

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Need more information?

Stuttering | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is stuttering? Stuttering is a disorder that affects the fluency of speech

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Stuttering - Better Health Channel

Children who stutter should see a speech pathologist, preferably before they start school.

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Stuttering in children: causes & treatment | Raising Children Network

Stuttering is a common speech problem that makes it hard for children to speak smoothly. If you notice your child has a stutter, see a speech pathologist.

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