(Stammering; Disfluent Speech)
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is interrupted by:
- Repetition or prolongation of sounds, words, or syllables
- An inability to begin a word
In an attempt to speak, the person who is stuttering may:
- Frequently blink the eyes
- Have abnormal facial or upper body movements
The cause of stuttering is not completely understood. Some experts have suggested that stuttering may occur when:
- A child's ability to speak does not match his verbal demands
- There are psychological factors in a child’s life such as mental illness, extreme stress
- Problems occur in the connections between muscles, nerves, and areas of the brain that control speech
- There are problems in the part of the brain that controls the timing of speech muscle activation
Muscles and Nerves Involved in Speech
Factors that may increase your chance of developing stuttering include:
- Family history of stuttering
- Sex: male
- Age: between 2-6 years of age
Symptoms may include:
- Repetition of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases
- Prolongation of sounds within words
- Between-word pauses and lack of sound
- Spurting speech
Accompanying behaviors, such as:
- Facial ticks
- Lip tremors
- Tense muscles of the mouth, jaw, or neck
- Worsening symptoms when speaking in public
- Improvement in symptoms when speaking in private
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis may be based on:
- Stuttering history
- Circumstances under which stuttering occurs
- Speech and language capabilities
- Evaluation of hearing and motor skills, including a pediatric and neurological examination
- Further testing and treatment by a speech language pathologist who specializes in communication disorders
Treatment can improve stuttering. The main goal is to get and maintain a feeling of control over speech fluency. The doctor or speech therapist can:
- Evaluate the stuttering pattern
- Assess what strategies may work best
Treatment may include:
- Behavioral therapy—This focuses on behavior modifications that can be made to improve fluency.
- Speech therapy—A primary goal of this type of therapy is to slow the rate of speech.
There is little evidence to support the use of drugs to improve speech fluency.
There are no guidelines to prevent stuttering. However, early recognition and treatment may minimize or prevent a life-long problem.
National Stuttering Association
Stuttering Foundation of America
Canadian Stuttering Association
Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research
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Stuttering. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering/. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Stuttering. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/stutter.aspx. Updated March 2010. Accessed May 20, 2013.
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Sommer M, Koch MA, et al. Disconnection of speech-relevant brain areas in persistent developmental stuttering. Lancet. 2002;360:380-383.
What is stuttering? The National Stuttering Association website. Available at: http://www.westutter.org/what-is-stuttering/stuttering-info/. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Yairi E, Ambrose NG. Early childhood stuttering: persistency and recovery rates. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 1999;42:1097-1112.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.