About Stuttering

Stuttering is a disorder that affects the control and co-ordination of speech movements. This results in an interruption in the flow (fluency) of speech. Stuttered speech may be characterised by one or more of the following: Repetitions: eg, “I . I . I . I want it.” Prolongations: eg, “Wha-a-a-at’s that?” Blocks – silent periods where the speaker seems to get “stuck” and is unable to get the word out: eg “It…’s mine.” Redundant head and facial movements also may accompany stuttered speech.

When does it start?
Children usually begin to stutter in early childhood, around the time they begin to put phrases and short sentences together. The onset of stuttering may be gradual or sudden, it may be cyclical in nature – starting, stopping for a period, and then starting again – or it may be consistently present, with or without fluctuations in severity. Children who go on to stutter in the later school years and as adults may develop associated social and anxiety-related difficulties (eg, fear of using the telephone, negative self-image).

What causes it?
The exact cause of stuttering is still unknown. What is known is that stuttering is not caused by anxiety or emotional trauma. Stutterers tend to stutter more when they are tired, upset, excited and nervous, but this is not the cause of the disorder. In fact, the speech of both stutterers and non-stutterers alike contains more dysfluencies in situations which produce anxiety. Think of the number of times you revise, correct, stop and restart your utterances, and how this increases when you are “stressed”. We also know that most people who stutter are genetically predisposed to stuttering in much the same way that asthma can run in a family.

What should parents do?
Parents frequently ask what they should do when their child begins to stutter. An effective therapy program exists for preschool-aged children who stutter: it’s called the Lidcombe Program. Research suggests that treatment is ultimately quicker and easier in the preschool years compared to treatment of school-aged children and adults. While a significant number of children who begin to stutter will eventually stop without any type of formal treatment, as yet we are unable to predict with any certainty which children will “spontaneously recover”. Since each child may react differently – with factors such as gender, time since onset and family history playing a role in determining treatment options – it is best to consult a speech pathologist for advice as soon as possible after your child begins to stutter. You can contact speech pathologists at public hospitals, community health centres and in private practice.

The information been provided by speech pathologist Sarah Woods, BA, BApplied Science (Speech Pathology), from the Sydney Children’s Hospital.