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Stuttering is a speech disorder which makes it difficult for people to talk. It involves disruptions to fluent speech characterised by the following behaviours:

  • Repetitions – this is where a sound, syllable or a word is repeated. E.g., “m-m-m-m-my tower is taller”, “can-can-can-can I go to the park?”
  • Blocks – this is where a person becomes stuck mid-speech and no sound comes out
  • Prolongations – this is where a sound is stretched out E.g., my naaaaaaaaaaaaaame is John

Stuttering is different from person to person. The severity of a person’s stuttering can range from mild to severe.  The types of stutters – repetitions, blocks and prolongations – that a person produces also vary. Stuttering can be triggered in different situations. For example, children tend to stutter more when they are talking about something very exciting. Sometimes, facial movements such as blinking or grimacing may accompany the stuttering.

What causes stuttering?

There is no known cause of stuttering.

Stuttering often runs in families – people who stutter are 60% more likely to have a family history of stuttering – but there are also cases where the person with a stutter has no known family history. No single gene causes it.

Stuttering affects more boys and men than it does girls and women. The ratio of men to women is between 3:1 and 5:1, depending on the source. Approximately 1% of the population has a stutter.

What stuttering is not

  • Stuttering is not part of a child’s typical speech development.
  • It is not an emotional disorder. That is, it is not caused by anxiety, shyness or trauma. However, people who stutter may develop anxiety disorders due to their negative experiences (e.g. bullying) and unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “they’ll laugh at me”) about their stutter.
  • It is not related to a person’s intelligence.

My child has developed a stutter. Should I contact a speech pathologist?

A stutter can emerge gradually over a period of weeks or months, or it can emerge suddenly. It typically emerges during the preschool years, before the age of 5. Some children do not appear to be concerned by their stutter, whereas others may struggle to ‘get their words out’ and become frustrated. It is recommended to contact a speech pathologist as soon as your child begins to stutter, especially if your child is displaying signs of frustration.

Stuttering treatment is most effective during the preschool years until approximately 6 years of age.  Intervention for adults who stutter is different to treatment for children. Treatments such as the Camperdown Program teach the speaker strategies to control their stutter, not to eradicate it.

Is treatment effective?

The Lidcombe Program is a safe and effective treatment for preschool-aged children. It is the only treatment for this age group with replicated Randomised Control trial evidence demonstrating that it is effective in getting rid of stuttering.

Will my child recover naturally?

Natural or spontaneous recovery is common among pre-schoolers.  However, we do not know which child will recover spontaneously and which child will not. We do know that treatment is very effective for preschool-aged children and that stuttering is more difficult to treat in adulthood. There is also a lot of research on the possible negative social and emotional consequences of stuttering in adulthood (e.g. unhelpful thoughts, social anxiety). Not many children who have been stuttering for a year will recover spontaneously.  This is why early intervention is considered best practice.

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