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Stuttering is a speech problem that affects many young children, particularly those aged between two and four years.
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What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a physical problem that makes it hard for people to speak smoothly. It also means they might stop and start a lot when they’re speaking.

A child with a stutter might not be able to get his words out. He might feel like his ‘words get stuck’ or his ‘mouth can’t keep up with his brain’.

What stuttering sounds like

There are a few different types of stuttering.

Repetitions
This is when a sound, word or phrase is repeated over and over. For example:

  • ‘A a a and I want that one.’
  • ‘And and and I want that one.’
  • ‘And I, and I, and I want that one.’

Prolongations
This is when sounds are stretched out – for example, ‘aaaaaaaaaaand I want that one’.

Blocks
This is when no sound comes out.

The severity of stuttering can vary a lot. For example, sometimes a child might have only a couple of stutters throughout the day, or sometimes she might get stuck on every word (although this is very rare). Stuttering can also change from day to day, week to week or month to month. Sometimes a stutter can go away completely, only to come back later in life. 

Children might do other things when they stutter – for example, they might put the word ‘um’ or ‘and’ into their speech. Or they might do non-verbal things such as blinking, grimacing, making faces or clenching their fists.

When stuttering happens

Stuttering often starts at 2-4 years, when children are starting to use more words and make longer sentences. A recent study showed that up to 12% of children stuttered by the age of four years.

Stuttering can start suddenly – for example, a child waking up one day with a stutter – or can develop over time.

Causes of stuttering

The specific cause of stuttering is unknown. What we do know is that it’s a physical problem where a person can’t coordinate their muscles properly in order to talk.

Stuttering runs in families. This means a child might be more likely to stutter if other people in his family stutter.

Stuttering isn’t caused by anxiety or stress. But some factors, such as feeling excited, might make a child stutter more.

Children don’t catch stuttering from other children who stutter.

Effects of stuttering

Children react differently to their own stuttering.

Your child might feel frustrated, avoid talking, feel embarrassed, change what he wants to say, or say things about his speech. Or he might not seem to notice or worry about his stuttering at all.

Stuttering that goes on over a long period might lead to your child developing anxiety in her teenage years and adulthood.

Children who stutter are no different in any other areas of their development from children who don’t stutter.

What you can do

If you think your child has a stutter, contact a speech pathologist as soon as possible. The speech pathologist will assess your child’s speech and work out whether to treat your child’s stutter straight away, or whether to wait and check your child regularly. 
Your child can’t help his stuttering. Stuttering is a physical problem that he has no control over.

Treatment

Some children will grow out of stuttering on their own, but speech pathologists can’t say which children will do this. It’s always best to consult a speech pathologist rather than assume the stuttering will go away by itself.

The longer stuttering goes on, the harder it can be to treat. Also, as your child gets older, she’ll be more likely to come across social situations that are hard for her to handle. For example, other children might not give her enough time to say what she wants to say, which can lead to her feeling angry or frustrated.

The Lidcombe Program
The speech therapy most commonly used to treat stuttering in Australia is the Lidcombe Program. It’s very good at reducing how much a child stutters. It often stops stuttering altogether.

The Lidcombe Program works best with children younger than six years, although it can be used with older children. You and your child go to weekly sessions with a speech pathologist where you learn more about stuttering and how it’s treated. The speech pathologist will also teach you a range of skills so you can do the treatment with your child each day, in everyday situations.   

Treatment focuses on giving positive feedback to your child when he speaks without stuttering. The speech pathologist will teach you how to give positive feedback.

You’ll also be trained in rating your child’s stuttering. Each time you visit your speech pathologist, you’ll review your child’s scores and check how things are going.

Treatment takes different amounts of time, depending on how severe the stutter is. Your speech pathologist will work with you on finding ways to incorporate the Lidcombe Program into your everyday life, so you get the best possible outcome for your child.

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  • Last Updated 26-04-2013
  • Last Reviewed 13-11-2013
  • Blood, G.W., Blood, I.M., Maloney, K., Meyer, C., & Qualls, C.D. (2007). Anxiety levels in adolescents who stutter. Journal of Communication Disorders, 40(6), 452-469.

    Iverach, L., O’Brian, S., Jones, M., Block, S., Lincoln, M., Harrison, E., Hewat, S., Menzies, R., Packman, A., & Onslow, M. (2009). Prevalence of anxiety disorders among adults seeking speech therapy for stuttering. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2, 928-934.

    Langevin, M., Packman, A., & Onslow, M. (2010). Parent perceptions of the impact of stuttering on their preschoolers and themselves.

    Journal of Communication Disorders, 43

    , 407-423.

    Reilly, S., Onslow, M., Packman, A., Cini, E., Conway, L., Ukoumunne, O., Bavin, E., Prior, M., Eadie, P., Block, S., & Wake, M. (2013). Natural history of stuttering to 4 years of age: A prospective community-based study. Pediatrics, 132(3), 460-467. 

    Reilly, S., Wake, M., Ukoumunne, O., Bavin, E., Prior, M., Cini, E., Conway, L., Eadie, P., & Bretherton, L. (2010). Predicting language outcomes at 4 years of age: Longitudinal findings from the Early Language in Victoria Study. Pediatrics, 126(6), e1-e8.

    Teesson, K., Packman, A., & Onslow, M. (2003). The Lidcombe Behavioral Data Language of stuttering. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 1009-1015.