Stuttering is a speech disorder in which sounds, syllables, or words are repeated or last longer than normal. These problems cause a break in the flow of speech (called disfluency).
About 5% of children (1 of every 20 children) ages 2 to 5 will develop some stuttering during their childhood. It may last for several weeks to several years.
For a small number of children, stuttering does not go away and may get worse. This is called developmental stuttering and it is the most common type of stuttering.
Stuttering tends to run in families. Genes that cause stuttering have been identified.
There is also evidence that stuttering is a result of brain injuries, such as stroke or traumatic brain injuries.
In rare cases, stuttering is caused by emotional trauma (called psychogenic stuttering).
Stuttering is more common in boys than girls. It also tends to persist into adulthood more often in boys than in girls.
Stuttering may start with repeating consonants (k, g, t). If stuttering becomes worse, words and phrases are repeated.
Later, vocal spasms develop. There is a forced, almost explosive sound to speech. The person may appear to be struggling to speak.
Stressful social situations and anxiety can make symptoms worse.
Symptoms of stuttering may include:
Other symptoms that might be seen with stuttering include:
Children with mild stuttering are often unaware of their stuttering. In severe cases, children may be more aware. Facial movements, anxiety, and increased stuttering may occur when they are asked to speak.
Some people who stutter find that they do not stutter when they read aloud or sing.
No testing is usually necessary. The diagnosis of stuttering may require consultation with a speech pathologist.
There is no one best treatment for stuttering. Most early cases are short-term and resolve on their own.
Speech therapy may be helpful if:
Speech therapy can help make the speech more fluent or smooth.
Parents are encouraged to:
Taking medicine has not been shown to be helpful for stuttering.
It is not clear whether electronic devices help with stuttering.
Self-help groups are often helpful for both the child and family.
The following organizations are good resources for information on stuttering and its treatment:
In most children who stutter, the phase passes and speech returns to normal within 3 or 4 years. Stuttering that begins after a child is 8 to 10 years old is more likely to last into adulthood.
Possible complications of stuttering include social problems caused by the fear of teasing, which may make a child avoid speaking entirely.
Call your health care provider if:
There is no known way to prevent stuttering.
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.