Developmental stuttering is normal and can be treated through therapy

As your child goes from baby to toddler and even older, they learn to talk and it’s so exciting to hear what they have to say!

They can begin to tell you more about their thoughts, what they like to do, and what they’re experiencing every day. But as some children learn to talk more in their early school years, parents may notice that they are stumbling over their words. It’s more than just not knowing a word or two—they seem to have trouble getting words out, repeat words, or stop making sound when speaking. This is known as developmental stuttering. If you’ve noticed this in your child, you may wonder why this is happening, and if it is something you should bring up to a healthcare provider.

Interruptions with speech are known as “disfluencies.”

There are a wide variety of interruptions that can occur in speech. For example, do you ever add “uh” or “you know” into a sentence while speaking? This is actually a type of disfluency, because it’s interrupting the flow of speech. So they’re very common!

It is also common for children to experience speech disfluencies, especially around the ages of 2.5 to 5 years old. In fact, it’s estimated that about 1 in 20 children will experience disfluency at this age. So why does this happen so frequently?

In short, it’s because children are learning so much about language development at this age, and it may be difficult to keep up! As children learn more words and take on a larger vocabulary, it is common for disfluencies to occur because they’re trying to use all the new language they’ve learned. Some children even have disfluencies occur, go away, and then reoccur as they learn more.

Is stuttering the same as a disfluency?

Speech disfluencies are general interruptions and issues with speech that can be considered typical, while developmental stuttering is a specific set of issues that include repeated parts of words, taking more time to sound out a word, or having trouble getting a word out.

If disfluencies are somewhat common and may go away on their own, how do you know when to talk to a healthcare provider?

First, if you have any questions or concerns, always trust your instincts and speak to a healthcare provider. They can possibly observe some of these disfluencies and answer some of your questions. If you’re not sure what to do next, consider some of the following:

  • It’s common for children to experience disfluencies in the age range of 2.5 to 5 years old. However, if a child starts experiencing issues later in this range (such as at 4 years old), or is still experiencing issues around age 5, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider.
  • Length of issue. If your child has been dealing with disfluencies for longer than 6 months, it is best to talk to a healthcare provider.
  • Young boys are much more likely to have a speech issue than young girls (3-4 times more likely, in fact).
  • Your child’s response. Does your child get frustrated when they try to speak? With typical disfluencies, children usually will not be frustrated or unable to communicate. So if your child seems frustrated, speak to a healthcare provider.
  • Family history. Does your family have a history of speech issues, such as stuttering? There is a genetic connection, so if you’re concerned about a genetic risk, speak to a healthcare provider.
  • Other physical signs. Does your child seem to physically struggle when speaking? If your child appears to have trouble physically saying a word (such as appearing to try and speak but having trouble making a sound), it should be addressed with a healthcare provider. Other physical behaviors that your child shows while speaking should also be discussed, such as hand tapping, eye blinking or throat clearing.

If children are having trouble communicating, it is best to intervene early! They can work with a speech-language pathologist to work through any speech disfluencies or developmental stuttering, and the earlier it’s addressed the better. You can start by asking your pediatrician for a speech-language evaluation; they will then determine if additional help is needed.

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