What is stuttering?

Quick Answer
Breaks in the smooth flow of speech.
Expert Answers
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Causes and Symptoms

Stuttering is usually recognized as a child develops enough language skill to speak in complete sentences, beginning around three years of age. Typically, the child repeats the beginning sounds of a word, or whole words, before continuing with the sentence, as in, “I l-l-l-like to p-p-p-pet my ca-ca-cat.” True stuttering must be differentiated from developmental dysfluency and dysfluency caused by unusually severe environmental or social pressures. Developmental dysfluency is normal, occurring in the three- or four-year-old child whose brain works faster than his or her mouth. This child may repeat parts of words, words, or parts of phrases, especially when excited. When a child feels significantly anxious, language may become dysfluent, or broken up and difficult to understand. This is not true stuttering, and treatment should be aimed at alleviating the anxiety or stress.

True stuttering is less common than the two dysfluencies just described, and it occurs more often in boys. Frequently, the true stutterer is consistently dysfluent on the same sounds or words. There is consistency in repetitions, prolongations, pauses, grammatical forms, and rate of emission of dysfluency. Often, the child will overcome a verbal hurdle by using certain actions such as eye blinking, finger snapping, or foot tapping.

Treatment and Therapy

Treatment of true stuttering by a competent speech pathologist is imperative, and the prognosis, although variable, can be good. Parents and teachers should be alerted to alleviate any emotional stress that is unusual or severe. Absolutely essential is the ability of all adults to deal with the stuttering child without calling attention to the speech patterns or mannerisms. Practicing reading aloud, especially poetry, and singing—all in the privacy of the company of a caring adult—may help.

Perspective and Prospects

The great ancient Greek orator Demosthenes was dysfluent and allegedly practiced talking with pebbles in his mouth until he could speak clearly. Stuttering does not preclude a person becoming successful in any endeavor. Modern speech therapy and understanding adults can be of great benefit to a child who stutters. The 2010 film The King's Speech, which focused on King George VI of England's work with a speech therapist, stimulated public discussion of stuttering and its treatment. Colin Firth received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of King George in the film.

Bibliography

Cole, Patricia R. Language Disorders in Preschool Children. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1982.

Hamaguchi, Patricia McAleer. Childhood Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know. 2d ed. New York: Wiley, 2001.

Martin, Katherine L. Does My Child Have a Speech Problem? Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1997.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Plante, Elena, and Pelagie M. Beeson. Communication and Communication Disorders: A Clinical Introduction. 3d ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2008.

Stuttering Foundation. http://www.stuttersfa.org.

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