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Childhood Stammering

Occasionally we all can be a little dysfluent and stumble over our words, this is usually when we are tired or have a lot on our minds.  A stammer is characterised by an abnormally high frequency of these dysfluencies, which regularly stops the flow of someone’s speech.  These are seen through features such as: 
Repetitions of sounds, syllables or whole words
  • prolonged/extended sounds
  • repetitions of sounds, syllables or whole words
  • blocks of airflow (like in the film ‘The Kings Speech’)
  • excessive physical and mental effort to speak.  
Children will vary a great deal in how easily they learn to talk.  For some children who are finding it a bit harder it is really normal to go through a period of dysfluency.  This is especially seen between the ages 18 months - 3 years, which is a key language development age.  It is likely that these children just need time while their speech develops and the stammer will lessen as they refine their speech motor skills.  So if your child is showing signs of stammering then there is no need to worry straight away.  However, a very small number of these children (around 1%) will go on to develop a persistent stammer, so the early signs of dysfluency need to be addressed.
To stop a more serious stammer developing there are various things that parents/carers can do to support children who are showing signs of early childhood dysfluency.  Parents/carers need to:
  • provide children with a good language environment that encourages slow, relaxed speech to help reduce stammering episodes.  This means not asking them direct questions, giving them time to speak without rushing them and not drawing attention to their stammer. 
  • model slow and simple speech, as children will try to copy the adult’s speech they hear.  If adults talk too quickly or are highly educated they could be modelling language that is too difficult for the child to pick up or language that is too advanced for the child to understand. 
  • stay calm!  The most important thing to remember is not to worry too much as without realising you may put too much pressure on a child who is going through a stage of normal dysfluency.  Increasing the demand on the child while they are already struggling with their speech can cause the child a lot of stress, which can make their stammer worse.
  • There are also some risk factors that you can look out for.  If there is a family history of dysfluency a child could be predisposed to having a stammer.  This will make it more likely that they will react to pressure in a way which will trigger a stammer.  Difficult life events, such as moving house, a death in the family or parents separation, can deliver a blow to stability and security which can make a stammer worse or trigger a stammer in a child who is predisposed.
  If you are worried about your child’s speech then you can contact ITS who have a team of speech and language therapists with 10 years of experience working with children with speech problems.  We are happy to speak with you over the telephone on: 0845 038 2921 or by email We will listen to your concerns and talk about the possible options in how you can best support your child. 
A speech and language therapist on our team can assess your child and investigate the signs/risk factors in your child specific case.  They will then discuss what therapy approach is best suited to your child and what you can do to help.  Depending on the child’s age and severity of the stammer this may include direct therapy or just simply making changes in the language environment your child is in. 
Laura Oldakowska
Speech and Language Therapist
June 2013