Stuttering

Definition 
Stuttering is a disorder that involves hesitation, repitition, or stumbling while speaking.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors 

Young children often go through a short period of stuttering, but this phase is very brief. For a small percentage (less than 1%), the stuttering progresses from simple repetition of consonants to repetition of words and phrases. Later, vocal spasms develop with a forced, almost explosive sound to the speech.

Stuttering tends to run in families, but it is unclear to what extent genetic factors are important. There is also evidence that stuttering may be associated with some neurological deficits. Psychological components tend to make the symptoms worse or better within each case. Surprisingly, people with significant speech difficulty often don’t stutter when singing or when they are alone talking to themselves. Stuttering tends to persist into adulthood more frequently in males than females.

Symptoms  

Symptoms of stuttering may include a hesitancy in starting sentences or phrases.

Signs and tests 
No testing is usually necessary.

Treatment  

There is no one best treatment for stuttering. Most early cases are short-term and resolve on their own. In persistent cases, speech therapy may help. Research on therapies is on-going and should be investigated to determine what kinds of help may be most useful.

Some people who stutter find that when they read aloud or sing they do not stutter. It can be helpful for the child’s self-esteem to practice reading aloud or singing.

Expectations (prognosis) 

In the majority of children who develop stuttering, the phase is transient and speech will return to normal. Obvious increases in speech difficulty may lead to persistent stuttering into adulthood.

Complications 

Complications of stuttering may include social problems caused by the fear of ridicule, which may make a child avoid speaking entirely.

Calling your health care provider 
Call your provider if stuttering is interfering with your child’s school work or emotional development.

Prevention 
Gentle attention from the parents without emphasis on the stuttering may help the child feel better about the problem.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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