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Stuttering - Topic Overview

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech problem in which you may repeat, draw out, not complete, or skip words or sounds without meaning to. The problem can range from mild to severe.

Stuttering that starts during a child's early language-learning years (ages 2 through 7 years) and goes away on its own before puberty is called normal disfluency. It's a normal part of language development. Most children aren't bothered by it and may not even notice that they're doing it. This type of stuttering may come and go for a while. Then it may slowly decrease until it doesn't happen anymore.

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Stuttering that lasts or gets worse over time is called developmental stuttering. This type of stuttering can be embarrassing and hard to deal with. It probably won't get better without treatment.

What causes stuttering?

Stuttering happens when the brain isn't able to send and receive messages in the normal way. Doctors don't know why this happens.

Stuttering may run in the family. It may be triggered by things like stress or a developmental delay.

In rare cases, stuttering may be caused by brain damage, such as after a head injury or a stroke.

What are the symptoms?

People who stutter may:

  • Repeat sounds, parts of words, and sometimes entire words.
  • Draw out (prolong) a sound or syllable. For example, a child may say "I am fffive years old."
  • Try to say a word or form a sound, but no sound comes out. They may also pause between words or within a word.
  • Use a different word in place of a word that's hard to speak.
  • Show tension or discomfort while talking.
  • Use only parts of phrases.
  • Add words or phrases that aren't related.

You may notice that your child stutters more when he or she is excited, anxious, stressed, or tired. Having to ask or answer questions or explain something complex may trigger or increase stuttering.

The same is true for teens and adults who stutter. It tends to get worse at stressful times, such as during public speaking. It often doesn't occur during activities like singing, whispering, talking while alone or to pets, or reading aloud.

How is stuttering diagnosed?

A speech-language pathologist can usually diagnose stuttering by having the child read aloud. The pathologist may film or record the child talking or may check speech patterns in other ways. Your child may also need a physical exam and other tests to rule out health problems that affect speech development, such as hearing problems.

Talk with your child's doctor if you have any concerns about your child's speech, if stuttering lasts more than 6 to 12 months, or if stuttering runs in your family.

If you are an adult who has started to stutter, see your doctor. Stuttering that starts in an adult is most often linked to an injury, a health problem, or severe emotional trauma. To diagnose the problem, the doctor will do a physical exam, ask you some questions, and watch and listen to you speak.

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