Stuttering in Children – The Causes and Treatment

By:  Megan Wallgren

Stuttering is a speech disorder that affects approximately 3 million Americans with boys being four times more likely than girls to stutter.  While it is common for children between the ages of 2 to 4 to have a temporary stutter, one that persists beyond this age could become a permanent speech disorder.  Certain factors may help you determine whether your child is at risk and whether or not you should have your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist.  Understanding what to look for and how to treat it can make the difference in how your child’s speech develops into adulthood.

What Causes Stuttering?

While experts don’t know for certain what causes stuttering in children most believe that it occurs due to one or more of the following factors:

Developmental – Children between the ages of 18 months and 2 years may go through a period of stuttering as they are developing their language skills.  This is generally temporary, and should not become a concern to parents unless it persists past 3 years old.

Heredity – Stuttering seems to have a genetic connection.  A large percentage of children who stutter usually have a family member who also stutters.  At this time research is being conducted to isolate the gene that is passed among family members.

Neurological Stuttering – It has been found that people who stutter have difficulty processing language the same way a person without a speech disorder does.  Much like a person who has had a stroke or brain injury, the brain of a person who stutters has a problem with transmitting language properly.  Experts do not yet know why this occurs in some and not others.

Since it is not unusual for a young child to stutter for a period of time it can be difficult for parents to know if their child’s stuttering is temporary or the beginning of a lifetime speech disorder.  There are some risk factors a parent can look at to determine if their child should be evaluated.  As mentioned before, if there are one or more family members who stutter or stuttered as a child then your child is more at risk.  If your child is over the age of 3 and continues to stutter, or the stuttering has continued for more than 6 months then your child may be at risk.  Also, if your child already has another form of speech disorder it is unlikely he will outgrow stuttering without intervention.

Types of Treatment

A child who is over the age of 3 and has been stuttering for more than 6 months should see a speech-language pathologist to be diagnosed properly.  Even a child with developmental stuttering can benefit from seeing a speech therapist before the stuttering becomes permanent.  While there is no cure for stuttering a child who works with a speech therapist may be able to eliminate the stuttering, or at the very least learn to manage the stuttering and improve speaking skills.  Make sure you are working with a certified speech therapist so your child will benefit the most.

Parents can also have a positive influence on their child’s therapy by being aware of the following:

•    Provide a relaxed atmosphere at home where your child feels comfortable speaking and expressing himself.

•    Speak in a slow, calm manner when talking to your child.  This will encourage your child to speak in a more relaxed manner.

•    Listen to your child when he speaks and refrain from finishing words or sentences for him.

•    Refrain from showing impatience or from criticizing your child for stuttering.  Showing irritation will only place more stress on your child and make speech even more difficult.

•    Spend quiet time with your child every day and try to have relaxed conversations so your child can practice speech in a relaxed atmosphere.

With speech therapy, patience and practice your child can learn to overcome or control their stuttering and become a confident speaker in the years ahead.

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