Stuttering is one of the most common communication disorders. An individual who stutters will have disruptions with certain characteristics in the way they speak. These disruptions or disfluencies typically involve repetitions (repeating parts of words), stretching out sounds or prolongations, and difficulty in physically getting words out (different than word-finding) or blocks. Blocks are when tension builds in one’s lungs or throat or jaw, for example.
The patterns and degree of stuttering can be different for every person who stutters. It can even change from day to day as stuttering is often influenced by stress, excitement, anxiety, and other strong emotions.
Stuttering is up to three to four times more common in males than females. In the United States, it is estimated that among the adult population, about one percent or three million individuals have the disorder.
Causes of Stuttering
For most people who stutter, the problem goes beyond disfluencies and difficulties in verbal expression. Stuttering can take a toll on one’s confidence and self-esteem. In many cases, it can also lead to anxiety, fear of speaking, and embarrassment.
The exact causes of stuttering are unknown, but it is often triggered and aggravated by strong emotions and tense situations. That said, stuttering is primarily neurological and physiological in nature. Research suggests that it may be a result of differences in brain activity that interfere with speech production.
Experts have also pointed out that family history can be a factor as to why a person stutters. According to studies, the condition is often inherited, and many individuals who stutter will likely have a family member with the same problem.
For children aged two to six years, it is not uncommon to go through temporary periods of disfluency. But stuttering may continue for some children due to some risk factors involved. These risk factors are:
- Gender – Studies reveal that stuttering is more likely to persist in boys than girls.
- Age – The condition is more likely to continue in children who began stuttering at age 3.5 years or older.
- Family history – Stuttering may persist for children with family members who also continued to stutter.
Signs and Symptoms of Stuttering
Periods of disfluency are normal in young children, but intervention may be necessary when the condition lasts for more than six months. Individuals who stutter will exhibit the following signs of disfluency:
- Repeating part of a word, such as, “I l-l-l-like your shoes.”
- Repeating one-syllable words, such as, “Do-do-do you want to play?”
- Prolonging sounds, such as, “Mmmmmy mom is here.”
- Blocks or stops, such as, “I’m going to (pause) school.”
Nodding, blinking, and avoiding or replacing certain words may also be exhibited by an individual as a way to stop or prevent stuttering. But these characteristics overlap with what’s called expressive oral language skills, so a licensed speech language pathologist can delineate if disfluencies are indeed stuttering or are part of oral expressive language.
When to Seek Help
Like all other speech, language, and communication disorders, early intervention is crucial in helping a child overcome and manage these difficulties. If you are concerned about your child’s disfluencies, seeking the help of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) may be in order. This is particularly important if your child:
- has been stuttering for six to 12 months or more
- began stuttering late (3.5 years old or older)
- stutters more often
- has a family history of stuttering
- tenses up or struggles when talking
- avoids talking or complains that talking is too hard
During your consultation with an SLP, your child will undergo observation and evaluation. The SLP will conduct some testing and look at the following:
- types of disfluencies, which includes typical disfluencies associated with stuttering and stutter-like speech
- number of stuttering-type disfluencies exhibited by the child
- how the child reacts when stuttering
- how the child attempts to fix their speech
Parents or caregivers will also have to answer a series of questions, which will help the SLP gauge the child’s condition. This includes the family’s own observations on how the stuttering affects the way the child plays, interacts with other people, and performs in school.
The child’s speech and language will also be evaluated by the SLP. This includes testing the way the child produces word and letter sounds, their understanding of what others say (receptive language), and how well they use words to express their thoughts (expressive language).
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