What is stuttering?

By September 8, 2018 May 14th, 2023 Speech Pathology
Child doing stuttering activities in an Speech Therapy clinic in Bpndi Junction and Mascot

Stuttering is a speech disorder that affects the person’s ability to speak smoothly. People who stutter know what they want to say, but have trouble saying it because their speech fluency is interrupted by:

  • Repeating sounds in words or phrases (e.g. ‘I I I I can do it’)
  • Prolonging sounds in a word (e.g. ‘where’s my bbbbanana’?)
  • Blocking; which is when no sounds come out when the person is trying to speak.

People who stutter may also develop non-verbal movements associated with their stutter. This can include head movements, blinking, and facial grimacing.

Causes of stuttering

  • The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. It is thought that stuttering may be related to the brain functions that regulate speech production.
  • Low intelligence, emotional problems and personality type are not a cause of stuttering.
  • Stuttering can run in families. If a parent or relative stutters, a child has a higher chance of stuttering than someone whose parents or relatives do not.
  • You cannot ‘catch’ a stutter by being around other children or people who stutter.

Facts about stuttering

  • Most children begin stuttering between the ages of 2 and 5 years, when speech and language is developing.
  • The onset of stuttering may be sudden or gradual.
  • About 5% of children stutter at some stage. Many children go through a stage of stuttering as their speech and language develops. Research indicates that, of these children about half may recover naturally, but for others the stutter will persist.
  • It is about 3 times more common in boys.
  • This can vary in severity over time, and even throughout a day.
  • A child may stutter more when talking about a new topic or if using complicated language. They can also stutter more when they are excited, tired, arguing, given limited time to speak, competing to be heard, or speaking to someone new.
  • Most people who stutter are more fluent when speaking in unusual ways (e.g., singing, whispering, and reading aloud with someone).

When do I need to get help?

While there is a chance that your child may recover naturally, it is not possible to predict which children will recover without therapy. Therefore, it is best to refer early, or discuss your concerns with a Speech Pathologist. Research shows that stuttering therapy has better outcomes for pre-schoolers than it does for older people.

What treatment is available for stuttering?

Stuttering treatment aims to train the child to speak fluently and with confidence. Types of treatment vary according to the age of the child and the severity of their stutter.

  1. Lidcombe Program- This is the most common form of treatment for pre-school children. This program is a highly structured behaviourally based program that focuses on training parents/caregivers to treat stuttering. The children attend therapy once a week, then practice intensively at home with their parents under the guidance of their Speech Pathologist with regular follow-ups. Parent involvement is essential in the treatment of stuttering.
  2. Westmead ProgramThis program is also known as Syllable timed speech or ‘robot talking’. This program is used for preschoolers who stutter, and where the Lidcombe program has not been successful. The child is taught to speak with very little difference in stress across syllables.  This is achieved by saying each syllable with equal stress to a rhythmic beat. The Children attend therapy once a week, then practice 6 times a day for 5-10 minutes each session.
  3. Camperdown Program– This is a treatment for stuttering in older children and adults, and those who have outgrown the Lidcombe program. It provides a way to speak that is incompatible with stuttering. A technique called prolonged speech is used to control stuttering and this is the basis of the treatment. Prolonged-speech is similar to “smooth speech” and other unusual speech patterns in which words are “stretched out”. This programs trains participants to use the speech pattern at a very slow rate and then increase their speech rate. The Children attend therapy once a week and practice daily using the technique is essential.

What do I do if my child stutters?

  • Take time to listen to your child without distractions or competition from other family members. Listen to what your child is saying, not how it is being said (i.e., don’t worry about the stutters).
  • Let your child finish what they are saying, don’t finish words or sentences for them.
  • Repeat or rephrase what your child says to show that you have understood.
  • Reassure your child if he or she is aware of the stutter and is concerned.
  • Praise your child when he or she is fluent.
  • Encourage your child to slow down and think about what they want to say.
  • Have your child assessed by a Speech Pathologist.

What I shouldn’t do:

  • Draw attention to your child’s speech in front of others or put him or her in situations where speech s on display.
  • Interrupt your child’s speech or complete sentences for him or her.
  • Criticise your child’s speech.
  • Tease your child about their stutter.
  • Let other people (i.e., friends, parents) make comments or try to correct your child’s speech

If you are concerned about your child’s stuttering then our Speech Pathologists in our Bondi Junction or Mascot clinics would be very happy to talk to you about your options. You can call us on (02) 80657837, or email us at info@oneononechildren.com.au.

Adapted from the Speech Pathology Australia Stuttering Fact Sheet