Stuttering — also called stammering — is a speech disorder that involves repeating or prolonging a word, syllable or phrase, or stopping during speech and making no sound for certain syllables. People who stutter know what they want to say, but have difficulty saying it.
Stuttering is common among young children as a normal part of learning to speak. Sometimes, however, stuttering is a chronic condition that persists into adulthood. This type of stuttering can have an impact on self-esteem and interactions with other people.
Children and adults who stutter may benefit from treatments such as speech therapy, psychological counseling or using electronic devices to improve speech patterns.
Stuttering symptoms include:
The speech difficulties of stuttering may be accompanied by:
Stuttering may be worse when you're excited, tired or under stress, or when you feel self-conscious, hurried or pressured. Situations such as speaking in front of a group or talking on the telephone can be particularly difficult for people who stutter.
When to see a doctor
Call your child's doctor for an appointment if stuttering:
If you're an adult who stutters, seek help if stuttering causes you stress or anxiety or affects your self-esteem, career or relationships. See your doctor or a speech-language pathologist, or search for a program designed to treat adult stuttering.
A combination of factors may be involved in stuttering. Possible causes include:
Researchers are still studying the underlying causes of stuttering. It's not clear why most people who stutter can speak without stuttering when they talk to themselves and when they sing or speak in unison with someone else.
How speech occurs
Speech occurs when air flows from the lungs, up the windpipe (trachea) and through the voice box (larynx). This causes the vocal cords to vibrate, creating sound. Sound is shaped into words by the ...
Factors that increase the risk of stuttering include:
Stuttering can lead to:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first discuss stuttering with your child's pediatrician or your family doctor. The doctor may then refer you to a speech and language disorders specialist (speech-language pathologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor or speech-language pathologist.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask may include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment, and ask for clarification if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor or speech-language pathologist
Tests and diagnosis
If you're the parent of a child who stutters, the doctor or speech-language pathologist will ask questions about your child's health history, including when he or she began stuttering and when stuttering is most frequent. The doctor or speech-language pathologist may talk to your child, and may ask him or her to read aloud to watch for subtle differences in speech.
The doctor or speech-language pathologist will want to differentiate between the repetition of syllables and mispronunciation of words that's normal in young children, and stuttering that's likely to be a long-term condition. He or she will also want to rule out another underlying condition that can cause irregular speech, such as Tourette's syndrome.
If you're an adult who stutters, the doctor or speech-language pathologist may ask you additional questions to better understand how stuttering affects you. He or she will want to know how it has impacted your relationships, school performance, career and other areas of your life, and how much stress it causes. He or she will also want to know what treatments you've tried in the past. This will help determine what type of treatment approach may serve you best.
Treatments and drugs
A number of treatment approaches are used to treat children and adults who stutter. Treatment for stuttering may be done at home, with a speech-language pathologist or as part of an intensive program. Often, treatment includes a few different approaches. These can include:
More intensive treatments for adults who stutter include:
Intensive treatment generally includes exercises to reduce stuttering, opportunities to practice speaking in groups, and learning steps to reduce stress and anxiety associated with stuttering.
Although some medications have been tried for stuttering, no drugs have been proved yet to help the problem.
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and breathing exercises have been tried for stuttering, but there's limited evidence that these approaches are effective.
Coping and support
If you are the parent of a child who stutters, the following tips may help:
When it comes to stuttering, many parents are naturally inclined to direct, challenge or chastise their child. But in some cases these actions have the opposite effect because they can add to feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness and can lower self-esteem. Avoid the following:
Connecting with other people
Last Updated: 2011-09-08
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