Jun 122014

While the movie, “The King’s Speech” brought a good deal of attention to a problem affecting children and adults, most people generally have limited knowledge about stuttering.

Is my child really stuttering?

I am frequently asked by parents of young children whether their child’s speech is true stuttering.  Many children experience a period of normal dysfluency, generally between the ages of two and three, when their speech is notable for the repetition of sounds at the beginning of words.  But true stuttering has clear markers in the child’s speech pattern that an experienced speech-language pathologist can diagnose.

Is my child’s stuttering psychological?

When a child is clearly exhibiting a stuttering pattern, some parents worry that the stuttering is psychological —  an idea held by many people in general about stuttering.  The movie, “The King’s Speech” reinforced the theory of childhood pressures and trauma as the primary cause of stuttering.  It makes for good drama but not fact.  Stuttering does not begin in the stutterer’s mind, or as some theories suggest, in the response of the mother or father to the child.

Is stuttering hereditary?

Research does confirm a genetic link in families that may predispose a child to become a stutterer, especially in males.  This fact makes it important for parents with a family history who question whether their child is stuttering to have a fluency evaluation by a speech-language pathologist.

If it’s not psychological, what’s really happening?

A stuttering block is a miscoordination between breathing and speaking that results in a tightening of the muscles in the throat. The stutterer struggles to break out of the spasm and the result is the pattern we hear as a stutter.   Eye blinking, facial grimacing and other sites of muscular tension can accompany the stutter.  A degree of psychological conditioning can take place when the problem persists.  If a stutterer feels uncomfortable in a speaking situation, the problem may be intensified.  But the fundamental cause is neurological, not psychological.

Older children and adults who stutter may appear to be struggling to speak and the listener often feels uncomfortable watching. But young children generally are not aware of their difficulty.

Can stuttering be cured?

Stuttering can be treated at any age.  Older children and adults can develop techniqes to control their dysflency.  But children whose stuttering is detected at an early age have the greatest chance of developing fluent speech because they learn to coordinate their breathing and speaking in a natural way without becoming self conscious.


Check back soon for more thoughts on speech pathology, communications and executive functioning.