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Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)?

Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder, more commonly known as Stuttering, is a Communication Disorder. Speech problems are often caused by problems with the body's nervous system. The problems between the brain and the nervous system affect the use of language, speech or communication.

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • problems in the timing patterns of saying words that would not be expected based on the child's age. These issues continue over time and are characterized by:
    • sound and syllable repetitions (the person sounds like they got stuck on a word or part of a word and are repeating it over and over such as "W-W-W-W-Where are we going today?")
    • making consonants or vowels in words longer than they should be (saying "ssssstop" instead of "stop" with solid "s" at the beginning)
    • broken words (pauses within a single word such as "st---op")
    • using other words to avoid using one that they have trouble saying or inserting words like "um" or "uh" into the sentence in order to try to make the delay between words less noticeable.
    • repeating single syllable whole words (for example, "I-I-I-I-I want to go to the store.")
  • these issues cause problems in school, in talking with others, or both.
  • the symptoms first showed up when the child was 2 to 4 years-old
  • the problems are happening because of speech-motor disorder, conditions that affected the person's brain, such as a stroke, tumor or trauma, or any other medical condition.

How common is Stuttering?

80-90% of children that have problems with stuttering will have issues by the time they are 6 years old. The problems usually start between ages 2 and 7 and often the first signs are repeating the consonants at the beginning of words (w-w-w-what), the whole first word in a sentence (I-I-I-I), or with harder or longer words. In the beginning, the child may not even realize that they are stuttering. Once they do notice, they may start to feel afraid and try to avoid having to say the words that they have problems with.

Research has found that 65-85% of children who have stuttering problems can overcome the issue. If the child is still showing severe symptoms at about age 8, then problems could continue when they are a teen or adult.

What are the risk factors for Stuttering?

If a child has a parent, brother or sister with the disorder, they are 3 times more likely to have issues than other children.

Anxiety and stress can also make stuttering issues worse.

If the stuttering has been happening for more than 6 months or there are strong fears about the stuttering by either the child or the family, then an evaluation should be done.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Stuttering?

Children with this disorder have many different language abilities, so any connection between stuttering and other conditions has not yet been found.

How is Stuttering treated?

If a parent is worried about how a child's stuttering, they should start with the child's doctor first. The doctor may suggest that the family talk to a person who is trained to test and treat people with speech or language disorders (a speech-language pathologist). That person will talk about the child's skills and will use special tests. A hearing test is often done because hearing problems can affect learning how to talk.

They may suggest more tests and a check-up by a person trained to identify and measure hearing loss (an audiologist), or a psychologist who is an expert in how children grow and develop. After the tests are done, they may suggest the parents do things at home to help the child practice and improve in talking. The speech therapist will also usually work with the child to help improve speaking skills or to control or monitor breathing and speech rate to reduce the stuttering. After initial skills are taught and practiced, follow-up sessions may be done on an ongoing basis to allow additional practice time and support.

Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, may also be used to help the child deal with their feelings about the problems that they may be having because of their stuttering. Family therapy may also be used to teach family members how to help the child as he/she works to stop the stuttering.