Stuttering, also known as stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder, is a speech disorder characterized by frequent and significant problems with speech fluency and flow. People who stutter have difficulty saying what they want to say, often repeating or prolonging words or sounds. Stuttering is common among young children as a part of language development, but it can become a chronic condition for some individuals.

While most children outgrow developmental stuttering, some may experience persistent stuttering into adulthood, which can impact self-esteem and social interactions. Treatment options, such as speech therapy, electronic devices to improve speech fluency, or cognitive behavioral therapy, can be beneficial for children and adults who stutter.


The signs and symptoms of stuttering may include:

  • Difficulty starting a word, phrase, or sentence
  • Prolonging a word or sounds within a word
  • Repetition of a sound, syllable, or word
  • Pauses or breaks within a word
  • Addition of extra words like “um” to anticipate difficulty in moving to the next word
  • Tension, tightness, or movement of the face or upper body during speech
  • Anxiety about talking
  • Limited ability to effectively communicate

Stuttering may also be accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid eye blinks, lip or jaw tremors, facial tics, head jerks, or clenched fists.

Stuttering can worsen in certain situations, such as when feeling excited, tired, stressed, self-conscious, hurried, or pressured. However, most people who stutter can speak fluently when talking to themselves, singing, or speaking in unison with others.

When to Seek Help

For children between 2 and 5 years of age, temporary stuttering is common as they learn to speak. However, if stuttering persists or worsens, and if it affects the child’s ability to communicate effectively or is accompanied by muscle tightening, seeking help is essential.

Parents should consider contacting a doctor or speech-language pathologist if stuttering lasts for more than six months, occurs with other speech or language problems, becomes more frequent over time, or affects the child’s school, work, or social interactions. Additionally, if stuttering starts in adulthood, seeking professional help is advisable.


The exact causes of developmental stuttering are not fully understood, but a combination of factors may be involved. Some possible causes include abnormalities in speech motor control, such as timing and coordination, and genetic factors.

Stuttering can also result from other causes, such as brain disorders or emotional distress. Neurogenic stuttering may occur after a stroke or traumatic brain injury, while psychogenic stuttering is rare and not the same as developmental stuttering.

Risk Factors

Males are more likely to stutter than females, and other risk factors include delayed childhood development, having relatives who stutter, and experiencing stress or pressure.


Stuttering can lead to difficulties in communication, anxiety about speaking, avoidance of speaking situations, social and academic challenges, bullying, and low self-esteem.

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The diagnosis of stuttering is made by a health professional trained in speech and language disorders, such as a speech-language pathologist. The evaluation process may differ for children and adults who stutter.

If you’re the parent of a child who stutters, the doctor or speech-language pathologist may:

  • Ask questions about your child’s health history, including when the stuttering began and when it’s most frequent
  • Assess how stuttering affects your child’s life, including relationships and school performance
  • Observe your child’s speech and differentiate between normal disfluencies in young children and long-term stuttering
  • Rule out other conditions that may cause irregular speech

If you’re an adult who stutters, the doctor or speech-language pathologist may:

  • Ask questions about your health history and when stuttering started
  • Rule out underlying health conditions that could cause stuttering
  • Inquire about previous treatment attempts to determine the best approach
  • Assess how stuttering impacts various aspects of your life


After a comprehensive evaluation, the speech-language pathologist will recommend the most suitable treatment approach. Various treatment methods are available, and what works for one person may not be as effective for another. Treatment aims to improve speech fluency, develop effective communication skills, and enhance participation in daily activities.

Examples of treatment approaches may include:

  • Speech therapy, focusing on slowing down speech and recognizing stuttering patterns
  • Using electronic devices to enhance fluency, such as delayed auditory feedback or speech mirroring devices
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to address negative thought patterns and associated anxiety
  • Parent-child interaction, where parents play an active role in helping their child cope with stuttering

While medication has been tried for stuttering, no drugs have been proven effective for treating the condition.

Coping and Support

If you’re the parent of a child who stutters, the following tips may help:

  • Listen attentively to your child and maintain natural eye contact
  • Give your child time to complete their thoughts without interruption
  • Talk slowly and calmly, as it may influence your child’s speech
  • Engage in conversations without distractions, such as during mealtimes
  • Encourage taking turns in speaking among family members
  • Create a relaxed and supportive atmosphere at home
  • Avoid focusing on your child’s stuttering during daily interactions
  • Offer praise and support rather than criticism

Connecting with support groups for people who stutter or parents of children who stutter can be beneficial. Organizations such as the National Stuttering Association or The Stuttering Foundation offer resources and support.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you’re seeking help for stuttering, be prepared for your appointment with a list of problematic words or sounds, the timeline of when the stuttering started, and any other relevant medical information. Ask questions about the cause, tests needed, treatment options, and available alternatives.

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