Roughly three million Americans have a stutter — most of them, children.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, stuttering occurs most often in children between the ages of two and six as they develop their language skills.
"Stuttering is a big deal," says Patricia Ruiz, Executive Director of Miami Speech Institute, "I feel that our community is not educated enough on it actually being a disorder that affects many people in many different ways."
May is Stuttering Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to educate yourself on stuttering and learn how you can support a child who may be struggling.
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What is stuttering?
Stuttering — also called stammering or disfluent speech — is a disorder characterized by repetition of sounds, syllables, or words; prolongation of sounds; and interruptions in speech known as blocks, according to the NIDCD.
The NIDCD says that an individual who stutters knows exactly what he or she would like to say, but has trouble producing a normal flow of speech. These speech disruptions may be accompanied by struggle behaviors, such as rapid eye blinks or tremors of the lips.
What causes a child to stutter?
"Stuttering has many different factors," says Ruiz, "One of them being genetics."
Ruiz says that a family history of speech and language disorders can increase a child's chance of developing a stutter. According to the Miami Speech Institute, there are certain chromosomes that have been pinpointed to produce stuttering.
“I was very self-conscious,” said Holly Nover, a 40-year-old Florida mom whose 10-year-old son Colton also has a speech impediment. “So I developed habits to switch my words so it wouldn’t be noticed.”
University of Delaware speech disorder researcher Ho Ming Chow agrees that there is a "really strong genetic component" to stuttering. Though several genes may be involved and the exact genetic causes may vary by child, “they probably affect the brain in a similar way.”
Ruiz says a child's temperament and environment could also play a role in their speech development. She also says children might stutter more or less based on a person's reaction to their stuttering.
"If I start stuttering, and you correct me, it's already making me feel like I'm not being efficient in communicating," says Ruiz. "So I'm going to stutter more because now I'm self-conscious about what I'm going to say and how many times you're going to correct me."
What do I do if my child starts stuttering?
Ruiz advises against correcting, interrupting, or speaking for a child who stutters. Instead, she recommends just ignoring the stutter and allowing the child to continue speaking.
"When you ignore it, it might go away," says Ruiz. "But if you create that doubt in them, that's when it becomes more significant as time goes by."
The MSI also recommends speaking slower to your child at home and pausing after each word.
A child might already view their stutter as some sort of malfunction, so the MSI says that parents should try to not make kids feel that they’re under any pressure.
If you believe your child has a stutter, MSI advises that parents first talk to a pediatrician about the stutter and request a prescription for an evaluation. Once you come in for an evaluation, MSI will run a series of tests to determine whether a stutter is present.
Can a child overcome stuttering?
Ruiz says that stuttering is something that most children outgrow on their own. A famous example of a person who outgrew a childhood stutter is President Joe Biden.
However, Ruiz says it's important to understand that stuttering is "not something you cure," but rather something that can be minimized through treatment.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all children will stutter for some period in their life, lasting from a few weeks to several years.
According to the NIDCD, boys are 2 to 3 times as likely to stutter as girls, and as they get older, this gender difference increases. The number of boys who continue to stutter is three to four times larger than the number of girls.
Approximately 75 percent of children recover from stuttering, according to the NIDCD. For the remaining 25 percent who continue to stutter, stuttering can persist as a lifelong communication disorder.
How can stuttering affect my child's life?
The NIDCD says symptoms of stuttering can vary significantly throughout a person’s day. For example, speaking before a group or talking on the telephone may make a person’s stuttering more severe, while singing, reading, or speaking in unison may temporarily reduce stuttering.
Like many other speech disorders, stuttering can make it difficult to communicate with other people, which often affects a person’s quality of life and interpersonal relationships.
For more information or support regarding your child's stutter, contact the Miami Speech Institute at email@example.com or (786)-460-1595.