What Is the Main Cause of Stuttering?

Medically Reviewed on 6/23/2021

Stuttering (child-onset fluency disorder) is a speech disorder that involves significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. The possible causes of stuttering are developmental (problems in speech control, genetics) or neurogenic (traumatic brain injury, stroke or other brain disorders).
Stuttering (child-onset fluency disorder) is a speech disorder that involves significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. The possible causes of stuttering are developmental (problems in speech control, genetics) or neurogenic (traumatic brain injury, stroke or other brain disorders).

Stuttering (child-onset fluency disorder) is a speech disorder that involves significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. It is sometimes referred to as stammering and disfluent speech.

Individuals who stutter know what they want to speak but fail to express themselves clearly. Around three million Americans stutter. Though stuttering affects people of all ages, it is most common in children aged two to six years old because they are developing their language skills. Most kids will recover from stuttering as they grow. However, it may persist into adulthood for one in four kids.

There are two types of stuttering:

1. Developmental

Developmental stuttering occurs in young children while they are still learning speech.  Researchers are still studying what exactly causes developmental stuttering. Possible causes of this type of stuttering include

  • Problems in speech control. When children’s speech and language abilities are unable to meet the child’s verbal demands, stuttering may develop.
  • Genetics. Developmental stuttering tends to run in families and genetic factors contribute to this type of stuttering.

2. Neurogenic

Neurogenic stuttering is caused by a stroke, traumatic brain injury or other brain disorders. These conditions cause problems in those parts of the brain that are involved in the coordination of speech and fluency.

Speech difficulties that appear after an emotional trauma are referred to as psychogenic stuttering. This type of stuttering is rare and different from developmental stuttering.

Factors that increase an individual’s risk of stuttering include

  • Male gender
  • Delayed childhood development
  • Having a family history of stuttering
  • Stress

How is stuttering diagnosed?

Stuttering is diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist (a health care professional who specializes in diagnosing and correcting problems in speech, language and voice). They will take the child’s personal history as well as family history. They will ask the parent about how long the child has been stuttering and if the child has any other developmental delay, such as other problems with speech or language.

It is recommended that parents consult the child’s pediatrician if they notice their child stuttering even at the age of two years old. The pediatrician might refer the child to intervention services in the local community for early treatment.

No blood tests or imaging tests are generally needed to diagnose developmental stuttering. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain or computed tomography (CT) scan brain may be needed in case of neurogenic stuttering to know if any structural brain problem is causing stuttering.

How to stop stuttering

Currently, there is no cure for stuttering, but treatments can help reduce the severity and frequency of the condition. Early treatment is necessary to prevent the condition from worsening and causing problems throughout the life of the affected child.

Parents and their children will need to attend several sessions with the speech therapist. The speech therapist will explain various speech exercises to be performed at home.

Parents need to support their child by

  • Providing a relaxed atmosphere at home.
  • Making the child speak several times (such as during family time and mealtimes) during the day while listening to them without interruptions.
  • Focusing on what the child wants to say instead of how they are saying it.
  • Building the child’s confidence by practicing patience.
  • Avoiding certain situations that are likely to cause the child to stutter more.
  • Sitting with the child and explaining that it is okay to stutter and you and your child can work on it together.

Some affected individuals use electronic devices that help control speech fluency. One of these devices fits into the ear canal similar to a hearing aid. Research is still under way to find out the effectiveness of such devices. No drugs are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for stuttering. Some drugs may be prescribed off label, but these are often associated with undesirable side effects. Hence, it is better to avoid those drugs.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/23/2021
References
National Institutes of Health: "Stuttering." https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/stuttering

Mayo Clinic: "Stuttering." https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stuttering/symptoms-causes/syc-20353572