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Health & Parenting

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Is There a Difference Between Normal Stuttering and Stuttering That Is a Problem?

It isn't always possible to tell when a child's stuttering will develop into a more serious problem that continues into the school years. But there are signs to look for that indicate stuttering may be a problem:

  • You may notice tension and a struggle with facial muscles.
  • You may also notice the voice rising in pitch with repetitions.
  • In more severe cases of stuttering, a child may demonstrate considerable effort and tension in trying to speak.
  • More severe cases are often marked by attempts to avoid stuttering by changing words or using extra sounds to start talking. Sometimes, a child will try to avoid situations where he or she needs to talk.

What Causes Stuttering?

Experts point to four factors that contribute to stuttering:

A family history of stuttering. There is disagreement as to whether stuttering is genetic, because specific genes have not been identified. But close to 60% of all stutterers have someone in the family who also stutters or stuttered.

Child development. Children who have other language and speech problems are more likely to stutter than children who don't.

Neurophysiology. In some children who stutter, language is processed in different parts of the brain than it is for children who don't stutter. This may also interfere with the interaction between the brain and the muscles that control speech.

Family dynamics. Some children's stuttering has been attributed to high family expectations and a fast-paced lifestyle.

It was commonly believed that stuttering was often the result of either physical or emotional trauma. Although there are some instances of stuttering following such traumas, they are rare and usually connected with physical trauma or illness later in life. There is little evidence to support the idea that children stutter as a result of emotional upheaval.

When Should I Seek Professional Help for My Child's Stuttering?

Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your child's development, including stuttering. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who can evaluate your child and determine whether or not there is a risk of a long-term problem. In most cases involving children, treatment primarily focuses on training and working with the parents to develop techniques to help the child cope with and get beyond his or her stuttering.

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