Fast, Terri, Your Child Stutters, Should You Worry?, Today's Health, Spring 1998, p. 4ff

Your child stutters, should you worry?

by Terri Fast

Judith Maginnis Kuster, CCC/SLP, is an associate professor at Mankato State University in the Department of Communications Disorders. Kuster has published several articles on Internet resources for speech-language pathologists and audiologists and writes a regular column for ASHA Magazine, a professional trade journal. She has been recognized by the American Speech-Language Hearing Foundation for her work on the Internet. Here Kuster answers some basic questions parents may have on stuttering.

Q. What is stuttering?

A. Stuttering is a disturbance in the normal flow of speech characterized by involuntary repetition, prolongation or blocking of a sound, syllable or word, often accompanied by avoidance or struggle reactions.

Q. What causes it?

A. The exact cause of stuttering is not yet known, although there are many different theories. At present, most believe there is a neurologically-based developmental weakness in speech and language coordination in children who stutter, which may also be genetically linked.

This may take care of itself with maturation. However, some children try to overcome the interruptions this causes in their speech - for example they may blink their eyes, push too hard against a blocked sound, or tense their vocal mechanism. These strategies may work temporarily, but then become a bigger problem than the underlying one. As time goes on, a person who stutters often develops very negative reactions to speaking.

Q. How do you recognize it; what are the symptoms?

A. In the early stages, stuttering is often hard to differentiate from what is referred to as a "normal disfluency." Many children, when they are practicing putting sounds and words together to express their thoughts and feelings, will "get stuck" as they are trying to formulate their thoughts.

Although the following will occur in normal disfluencies, too, some of the things considered to be red flags are:

Q. At what age does stuttering usually begin?

A. Usually between the ages of 2-4, although it can begin in older children and even occasionally in adults.

Q. Can it be "cured"?

A. If stuttering persists into adulthood, many feel a "cure" is not a reasonable expectation, although many people who stutter are very effective communicators and have learned ways to modify their stuttering behaviors effectively. Some are in very public speaking careers, like James Earl Jones, John Stossel and Bill Walton. Others hold public office, teach, are physicians and lawyers, work in supervisory roles, etc.

When stuttering in children is detected early, very often consultation with parents and, at times, direct treatment with the child, will help the stuttering disappear permanently.

Q. What if parents are concerned about unusual speech patterns in their children?

A. That means its time to seek out answers to their questions. Sometimes well-meaning people try to reassure parents that their child is just passing through a stage. That is not always so. About one in every five preschoolers who goes through a phase of disfluency develops a chronic stuttering problem. Since most young children respond very well to relatively simple treatment, it makes sense to consult a specialist if you are concerned at all.

Q. What can parents do to help?

A. A few helpful suggestions:

Q. Are there behaviors parents should avoid?

A. There are many suggestions a specialist will recommend, including:

Q. What therapies/treatments are used for stutterers?

A. There are various schools of thought for stuttering therapy. Many different approaches will be effective for various people. With children, it is felt that early intervention is important to help them and their parents, and hopefully preventing the stuttering from progressing.


Internet's Stuttering Home Page, maintained by Kuster at Mankato State University Look under Information about Stuttering/ Information for Parents.

The Stuttering Foundation of America has many inexpensive materials available, including Stuttering and Your Child: Questions and Answers and If Your Child Stutters: A Guide for Parents designed especially for parents. P.O. Box 11749 Memphis, TN 38111-0749 800-992-9392

The National Stuttering Project
5100 E. Lapalma, Suite 208
Anaheim Hills, CA 92807

American Speech-Language- Hearing Association
10801 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Your local school district speech-language pathologist may provide you with additional suggestions and referrals in your area.