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Conditions Basics

What is stuttering?

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

Sometimes stuttering starts during a child's early language-learning years (ages 2 through 7 years) and goes away on its own before puberty. This is called typical disfluency. It's a normal part of language development. Most children aren't bothered by it. They 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.

Stuttering that lasts or gets worse over time is called developmental stuttering. Children who have it may feel self-conscious and find the condition hard to cope with. This type of stuttering usually needs treatment to get better.

What causes it?

Stuttering is thought to be caused when the brain has trouble sending and receiving messages for speech. Doctors don't know why this happens.

Stuttering may run in the family. It may be triggered by things like stress or feeling frustrated.

What are the symptoms?

Children 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 excited, anxious, stressed, or tired. Answering questions or explaining something complex may trigger or increase stuttering.

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

How is it diagnosed?

A speech therapist can usually diagnose stuttering by talking with your child. The speech therapist 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.

How is stuttering treated?

Treatment for stuttering often includes speech therapy for the child and the involvement of the people closest to them. The speech therapist can help your child speak more smoothly. And the therapist will teach others, such as parents and teachers, how to best help the child at home and at school.

The speech therapist can help you understand how speech develops and teach you how to relate to your child in a positive way. You'll also learn how to help your child at home by using proper eye contact and body language when your child is trying to talk to you.

Speech therapy is important, especially if your child's stuttering lasts, gets worse, or is severe. Working with a speech therapist can help your child master certain speech and language skills and feel better about their ability to speak.

Remember that when stuttering begins in early childhood, it tends to go away on its own. If you think your child's stuttering is not typical disfluency, talk with your child's doctor.

People who stutter may find both speech therapy and counseling helpful. Counseling can help them manage anxiety, low self-esteem, and other problems that can make stuttering worse.

How can you help your child?

By responding in a supportive and caring way, you can help your child avoid the social and emotional problems that sometimes result from stuttering.

  • Speak slowly and calmly, and pause often. Use short, simple sentences.
  • Spend some quiet, uninterrupted time with your child each day. Let your child guide what the two of you do and talk about during these times. Showing that you enjoy this time together can help build your child's confidence.
  • Be polite when your child speaks. Don't criticize, interrupt, or ask too many questions. Give your child the time and attention needed to express thoughts and ideas.
  • Use positive facial expressions and body language when your child is talking. Show that you are focused on the message rather than how they talk.
  • Let your child know that you accept them no matter what.


Current as of: October 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.