Stammering, also known as stuttering, affects an estimated 8% of children at some point during their childhood. For most children, their stammer will be temporary. Stammering affects an individual's speech production and can persist into adulthood. Read more about stammering treatment and how you can support your child who is presenting a stammer.
What is stammering?
Stammering presents when individuals repeat syllables or sounds when speaking. When sounds/syllables are repeated, it can sound like “mu-mu-mu-mummy”. Alternatively, they can stretch the sound out, like “dddddddaddy”, or get stuck on a word and there is no sound production.
Stammering varies from day to day. Some days, individuals can stammer less or more. It can negatively impact an individual, especially when they face challenges to take part in daily conversations.
What are the 2 types of stammering?
Developmental Stammering: this is the most common type of stammering, as it generally occurs during a child’s early developmental years when speech and language skills are rapidly increasing.
Late-onset or Acquired Stammering: this is a rarer form of stammering, but can affect older children or adults due to a physical injury or condition, like stroke, head injury, or neurological. Other causes may include specific medicines, drugs or emotional trauma.
Stammering in children:
Stuttering most often begins between the ages of 2 and 8. This should come as no surprise as this is when a child’s language repertoire is rapidly expanding. Many children who stutter may know what they want to say, but their motor pathways aren’t prepared to get the words out when they are speaking/planning their ideas for speaking. For more information, read Causes of Stuttering | Why Do People Stutter?
Is it possible to cure stammering?
When people think about their stuttering, often they just want to get rid of it. While there is no cure for stammering/stuttering, there are stammering treatments that can help someone alleviate their dysfluencies. Errors that appear in stuttering, such as hesitations, using fillers (ie. like or uh) repetitively, whole word or sound repetitions, avoidance/secondary behaviors, or blocking when trying to initiate a word.
Remediating a Stammer/Stutter: General Overview
In order to remediate the impacts of stuttering it is important to work under the guidance of a speech and language therapist. Often in conjunction with a psychologist who can help with the fear of speaking that develops after persistent stuttering. It is important to intervene early as persistent stuttering is not only more difficult to ameliorate but also creates heightened anxiety. Due to the repetitive struggle of speaking and the pressure/demands that are consistently put on the speaker to speak without the stutter. It is also crucial to work on the specific manifestations of stuttering as well as the feelings exhibited by the individual who stutters. As attitudes towards communication in specific contexts contribute to/escalate stuttering and work on the perception of others on their stuttering.
This work can be divided into 3 categories:
Affective: feeling towards speaking/ stuttering;
Behavioural: how the stuttering specifically manifests
Cognitive: perception of others towards the individual’s stuttering
Is stammering a brain problem?
Both family history and brain differences can lead to stuttering. There may be small differences in the brain of the individual who stutters while they are speaking.
Research has shown that the pathways in the brain responsible for language look and function differently when stuttering occurs. Adults who stutter and who have had their brains analyzed revealed in images that there is more activity in the right hemisphere of the brain and limited activity in the left hemisphere, which is responsible for speech production.
What is the main cause of stammering?
Researchers haven’t identified a specific gene that’s responsible for stuttering. However, it’s possible that if you carry certain genetic material, you may be more likely to stutter.
Additionally, the more you continue with a stutter without treatment the more likely you will have negative attitudes toward communication. This negative attitude towards speaking can lead to increased anxiety and a desire to withdraw from speaking, leading to a persistent stutter. However, these negative attitudes are NOT a cause of stuttering.
The higher demand that comes with language development can contribute to stuttering as the motor pathways may have difficulty keeping up with the explosion of language, and all of the things that the child wants to say.
There are rare occurrences of stuttering that occur in individuals who experience a form of brain injury or extensive psychological trauma. Also known as acquired stuttering, this type of stuttering looks different from stuttering that begins in childhood.
In summary, environment, genetics, and language development can affect the brain of the individual who stutters, but there is not one sole cause for stuttering that the research has indicated.
Can stammering be cured 100%?
It is easier for a stutter to resolve if it lasts for only 6 months. A cure doesn’t exist for how to stop a stutter. However, many people are at risk of having a stutter that persists into adulthood, including those who:
Are stuttering beyond 3.5 years of age.
Have family members who had a persistent stutter
The good news is that two main strategies can help younger children work on their stammering/stuttering. Sometimes, the stutter will go away and not return!
At home Strategies to Help A Child Who Stammers/Stutters
The strategies that help individuals who stutter can be grouped into 2 categories when working with younger children:
Indirect strategies: strategies that change your way of communicating with your child, including creating a calm environment, letting your child finish their thoughts without interrupting them, and making sure you monitor your speech when interacting with your child so that it is slow and calm.
Direct strategies: these are evidence-based direct speech strategies that work on the child changing their speech to reduce stuttering. It focuses on both the primary and secondary (ie. movement of the body such as tapping, or blinking repetitively) aspects of stuttering. First, the speech therapist assesses what types of disfluencies are being exhibited, how often, and in which contexts. Trigger contexts can be worked on by role-playing scenarios that create anxiety and increase stuttering (ie. interacting with an authority figure) until the child is able to do it on their own in the natural setting. Additionally, proper breathing and posture are crucial in helping the child work on their disfluencies- relieving both tensions, as well as avoiding “running out of air” while speaking.
If you suspect that your child is stuttering, try to get help from a speech and language therapist as soon as possible to reduce the chances of a persistent stutter/stammer.