Stuttering in Children: Signs & Causes

Instructor: Amy Lipsett

Amy works as a nurse educator for a university health care organization. She has a bachelor's of science in nursing and a master's degree in health care administration.

In this lesson, you will be provided with a broad overview of stuttering in children. This will include the causes of stuttering and how to identify common signs of it, as well as when stuttering may require intervention.

What Did He Say?

Imagine that you are an RN who works in a busy pediatrician's office. Mrs. Jones brings in her three-year-old son, John, for his wellness visit. While you are checking his height and weight, Mrs. Jones tells you that she is concerned because she sometimes has a hard time understanding what John is saying. Also, other family members often ask her, ''What did he just say?'' As you think about Mrs. Jones' concerns, you pause to reflect on your education about pediatric speech disorders, especially stuttering.

Signs of Stuttering

Stuttering is a disruption in the normal patterns of speech. This can occur at any point during anyone's life, but stuttering is most often seen in children between the ages of 18 months and five years. During this age period, children like John quickly broaden their vocabulary and use new words in sentences. Some signs of stuttering that Mrs. Jones may be noticing in John's speech include:

  • Repeating a sound or syllable, especially in the beginning of a word (example: 'bu-bu-bus')
  • Prolonging a sound (example: 'sssssssun')
  • Completely stopping speech
  • Omitting a sound
  • Repeatedly interrupting speech with sounds such as 'uhhhh' and 'ummmm'

The stuttering may last for a few weeks or months. Also, it may be intermittent, meaning that it is not present every time John speaks. Most children who begin stuttering before the age of five will stop without any interventions.

If John's stuttering continues to progress, or if he is still stuttering at the age of five, Mrs. Jones should have him evaluated by a speech therapist. Signs that John's stuttering has progressed include:

  • Consistent repetitions of whole words
  • An increase in syllable or sound repetitions
  • Strained or difficult speech
  • Increased facial tension when speaking
  • Vocal tension that causes high pitch or loudness
  • Avoids speaking
  • Displays facial or body movements while stuttering

Causes of Stuttering

Speech experts have determined that there are four factors that most likely contribute to stuttering. These factors are:

  • Family history
  • Family dynamics
  • Child development
  • Neurophysiology

Researchers have determined that 60% of children who stutter have a family member who currently stutters or stuttered during childhood. This indicates that family history, or genetics, plays an important role in understanding what causes stuttering.

Family dynamics, or how a family interacts, can contribute to a child's stuttering if the family has high expectations and a fast-paced lifestyle.

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