What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech-motor disorder where difficulties controlling and coordinating speech movements results in the disruption to the flow (fluency) of speech. A person knows exactly what they want to say, however has difficulties producing smooth, fluent speech.

There are three different types of stuttering:

  • Repetitions – This is when the person repeats whole or parts of phrases (e.g. I want the… I want the… I want the red one), single words (and-and-and-and the blue one), parts of words (chi-chi-chicken please), or sounds (b-b—b-but you said).
  • Prolongations – This is when the person stretches or lengthens certain sounds in the words e.g. wwwwhere is my ball? I can’t ssssee it
  • Blocks – This is when the person becomes ‘stuck’ and is not able to produce speech. Blocks can be accompanied by other behaviours such as head shaking, blinking, twitching or other body movements

A person may exhibit one or more of the different types of stuttering.

Stuttering in children

Did you know that up 1 in 10 children stutter?

Stuttering usually begins between 2 – 5 years of age, at a time when the child is learning to speak in longer, more complex sentences. For unknown reasons, three times more boys than girls stutter.

 If left untreated, stuttering can continue into adulthood. Whilst some children may “grow out” of stuttering, it is impossible to know which children will grow out of stuttering and which children will go on to stutter as adults. As stuttering can become more difficult to treat with age, early intervention is key. The earlier a child and their parent begin treatment, the better chance that child has at becoming a fluent speaker.

Some children may not realise they stutter. This is particularly true for younger children. For other (especially as children get older) stuttering can be incredibly frustrating or embarrassing. Some children who stutter may experience bullying. Stuttering can be worrying for parents.

Stuttering in adults

Approximately 1 in 100 adults stutter. Some adults may have stuttered since they were children. This is called developmental stuttering. Other adults may begin to stutter following a stroke or any other type of head trauma resulting in brain damage. This is called neurogenic stuttering.

For some adults, stuttering can have a large negative impact on their daily functioning. It may be frustrating or embarrassing to engage in conversation. Certain tasks such as talking on the phone or work/university presentations can be incredibly difficult. Stuttering may impact occupational or educational opportunity.

What causes stuttering?

The cause of developmental stuttering has not yet been determined but there is thought to be a genetic influence, with stuttering often running in families. Often people who stutter have a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin who stutters.

What can impact stuttering?

Some factors may affect amount of stuttering. It is important to note that whilst these may increase the amount of stuttering, they are not the cause of the stuttering. The factors that increase stuttering will be different for each child. They can include:

  • Emotional states (e.g. excitement, nervousness, being upset)
  • Physical states (e.g. illness, tiredness)
  • The length of the sentence the person is trying to communicate
  • How complex the sentence or idea is that the person is trying to communicate
  • The topic of conversation
  • The environment (e.g. who is there, where the person is, if it is a new environment, what the person is doing)
  • Life events (e.g. new siblings, death in the family, moving house or schools)

What can I do to help my child?

A lot! If your child begins to stutter, it is important you make contact with a Speech Pathologist to book in an assessment.

In the meantime, the following strategies can help:

  • Try to listen to your child’s message when they are stuttering – this will reduce their frustration
  • Respond to your child’s message – let them know what they’re saying is important
  • Try to let your child finish what they are saying – no one likes being interrupted!
  • Be a good speaking role model for your child – speak in a slow, relaxed manner
  • Praise your child when they speak fluently
  • Praise your child when they do other tasks well – this will improve their confidence
  • Praise your child when they try their best and persevere at other tasks (even if they “fail” or find the task difficult) – this will encourage a “growth mindset”
  • If your child asks about their stuttering – speak openly about it and let them know it is okay
  • Try to prevent other children (including siblings) teasing your child who stutters
  • Inform your child’s teachers and ask them to use the above strategies
  • For an older child, it may be appropriate to discuss with their teacher allowing your child extra time or preparation for oral work (e.g. round reading, telling news, presentations) or an alternative way to demonstrate their knowledge (e.g. a pre-recorded presentation, one on one reading time

I am a teenager/adult. What help is available?

Whilst stuttering can be more difficult to treat as someone grows older, a lot can still be done. Book in an appointment with a Speech Pathologist who can help you become a more confident speaker.

A Speech Pathologist can help by:

  • Providing you with strategies to improve your speech fluency (reduce stuttering)
  • Helping to reduce anxiety or other negative emotions around speaking
  • Increasing your speaking confidence – including conversations with friends, family, and co-workers, telephone calls, ordering meals, and public speaking

As well as the above, it is important to have social support. Finding a support group for people who stutter can be helpful.

You can find out more information from the Australian Speak Easy Association

Other useful links:

Speech Pathology Australia: http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org

Australian Stuttering Research Centre: http://sydney.edu.au/health-sciences/research/centres.shtml

Toastmasters International: http://www.toastmasters.org.au/

International Stuttering Association: http://www.isastutter.org/

International Fluency Association: http://www.theifa.org/