Speech is considered fluent with words are produced easily and flow. When someone is disfluent, they produce their words quickly into the next and they do not flow rhythmically.
Disfluency, also called stuttering, involves abnormal:
- Hesitations – will pause awkwardly between words
- Repetitions – will repeat sounds or words in a sentence (e.g., “I went went to the pa-pa-park.”)
- Prolongations – producing the same sound for a long period of time (e.g., I want the bbbbbball)
Children and adults who have a stuttering disorder may also have facial and body movements that are paired with their difficulty in trying to speak. This may be as small as looking away from the speaker at random moments or very extreme like smacking their legs or jerking a body part.
We All Go Through NORMAL Periods of Stuttering
Even from a very young age, we go through periods of normal stuttering. Children often enter this period of disfluency around Preschool age. Adults may interject syllables like “um,” “ah,” and “er” while talking and occasionally repeat sounds, words or phrases. Children will grow and develop over time where these periods of disfluency will disappear.
How Do I Know the Difference Between Normal Stuttering and Not Normal Stuttering?
Stuttering typically begins between 2-5 years old and boys will stutter more often than girls (Healthtouch 2000).
A child with normal disfluencies may demonstrate the following behaviors:
- Repeats whole words or phrases.
- Disfluencies are usually on the first word or little words of the sentence (e.g., “It – It – It ran away!”).
- When repeating, the child will repeat the vowel sound (e.g., “wa wa want”).
- Disfluencies occur when the child has a lot to say and is excited
- Engages in conversation easily – the child doesn’t struggle starting his/her sentence.
- Has 9 or less disfluencies per 100 words (ASHA, 2002).
A child may be at risk for developing stuttering if they exhibit the following behaviors:
- Disfluencies occur several times throughout the same sentences (e.g. “I wa-wa want to gggggo to the pa-pa-park.”). These disfluencies will appear on the major components of the sentence, such as nouns.
- Child may take a long pause between words (e.g., “candy……bar”).
- During repetitions, the child takes pauses in between the sounds (e.g., “g.g.g….g.go”).
- Has 10 or more disfluencies per 100 words (ASHA, 2002)
- Seems to struggle when speaking – may open mouth to start talking, but nothing comes out
- Child becomes very frustrated when disfluent and is aware of what is happening
Causes of Stuttering
I wish I could tell you that we knew EXACTLY what causes stuttering, but we don’t. It is one of the most poorly understood disorders in the area of speech and language. Doctors do not agree one any single cause and even agree that it may be several different factors that cause stuttering to occur. Possible theories of what causes stuttering include:
- The way parents talk to a child
- Issues with the speech muscles
When Should I Contact A Speech Therapist?
As a parent, we are always actively listening to our children and wondering is that normal? Why is he doing that? Is there something wrong? TRUST. YOUR. GUT!
If you feel like your child is having difficulty with speech, make sure you are listening to them interact with different people in their environment.
Does he talk differently to his peers compared to his teacher? Does your child stutter when they seem to be under a lot of stress?
After a while, you should be able to tell if there is a consistent pattern of disfluency. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your school’s Child Study Team or look into getting an independent evaluation. Treating problems early may prevent a child from falling behind socially and academically (ASHA, 2006).
What Kind of Help is Available?
The first person you can reach out to is a Speech-Language Pathologist. This person should be accredited with the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), as well as their respective state. They will hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) and will have either a Master’s or Doctorate degree.
Speech Blubs App also has great information, strategies and activities that you can start to implement at home until you find professional help!
Speech Learning Simplified!
Start 14-day FREE #StayAtHome offer!
Activities to Encourage Fluency
- When your child is disfluent, try and look calm. Do not appear alarmed or frustrated with them.
- Be patient. Give your child the opportunity to “get it out.” Do not tell them to hurry up, slow down, take your time, do not work.
- Once your child has finished their message, repeat it back to him/her to ensure you understood the message.
- If your child is talking about an unfamiliar topic, more fluency issues may arise.
- Do not put your child in situations where their speech will be on main display, such as plays, asking them to give a speech, etc.
- You will need to slow down your rate of speech. If you talk fast, your child will learn the same speech pattern
- Allow for the opportunity for your child to answer the first question before you ask another question.
- Decrease distractions. If you have multiple children, give each child their own time to talk to you without the other child jumping into the conversation (e.g., “Ok Mike, you had your time to talk to mommy, now let’s let Kevin have his turn.”).
- The telephone is a huge area of concern for people who stutter. Acknowledge this and be more patient and understanding when a child who stutters is talking to you on the phone.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me if you have more concerns or questions regarding your childs’ speech patterns. Download Speech Blubs App and check their activities to help your child overcome stuttering!
- The Stuttering Foundation. (2002) If you think your child is stuttering …
- Sarah Peterson – Speech Language Pathology Handout (NJ Conference for School Based SLPs)
- American Speech Language Hearing Association (2005) Language and Literacy Development
- Healthtouch (2002) Questions and Answers about Stuttering American Speech-Language Hearing Association (2002). Characteristic
Have a question for our Speech Therapists?
Leave them in the comments! If you want to get a personal answer from our speech therapist, write to
The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.