What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech problem that can cause you to:
- repeat whole words or parts of words (e.g., “my my my my”, “my na-na-name”)
- stretch out sounds (e.g., “mmmmmy”)
- try to speak, but no sound comes out
- avoid speaking or using some words, or have lip tremors or body movements (these are called struggling behaviours)
You can see some symptoms of stuttering, but some you can’t. Stuttering can affect you in many ways, including how you:
- feel about speaking
- feel about yourself
- interact with other people
Stuttering can change from time to time and in different situations (e.g., when you’re with someone you know or in front of a lot of people). Stuttering can come and go, especially in young children.
Stuttering that begins in childhood, usually between the ages of 2½ and 5 years, is called developmental stuttering. Developmental stuttering is not caused by parenting, a bad scare, or a mental health problem. Some people (especially people with a family history of stuttering) are more likely to stutter than others. It’s impossible to tell which children will stop stuttering and which will keep stuttering as they get older. It’s important to get help with the stuttering as soon as possible.
You can start stuttering after you have a brain injury (e.g., an accident or a stroke). This is called acquired stuttering or neurogenic stuttering. Although this kind of stuttering is similar to developmental stuttering, there are some differences.
With treatment, people who stutter can learn to speak more smoothly and confidently. It’s very important to start treatment as soon as possible, especially in the preschool years. If stuttering isn’t treated, it can get worse and become harder to treat as the person gets older.
Types of stutters
Individual sounds, syllables, or single syllable words are often repeated and at a quick pace.
- Sound Repetitions: I like t-toast.
- Syllable Repetitions: Look at the bu-bu-butterfly.
- Single Syllable Word Repetitions: I-I-I am five years old.
Consonant or vowel sounds are longer. Your child’s voice may become louder or change pitch during a vowel prolongation.
- Example: “I am fffffive years old.” or “I aaaaaaaam five years old.”
People may look like they are struggling, stuck, or not taking a breath when trying to get a sound or word out. Blocking usually happens at the start of a word. If it happens in the middle of words, it is called broken words (see below).
There is a block within a word.
The person shows some tension in the speech muscles (lips, tongue, vocal cords) or in their body when having a stutter.
- Example: eye blinking, head bobbing, facial grimacing, making a fist, stomping a foot
You can see/hear the person taking a lot of breaths or quick breaths of air while trying to begin talking. Breathing disruptions are a sign of tension.
Most people have small interruptions in their speech called normal disfluencies. These disfluencies usually happen when they are thinking of what they are going to say (formulating language). They are most often said at a slow rate of speech. These may include:
Word repetitions: I (pause) I want chocolate.
Phrase repetitions: I like (pause) I like my new teacher.
Interjections: The person uses extra sounds, syllables, or words often when they are thinking about what to say. Common interjections include: uh, um, well, like, you know, actually, etc.
Revisions of what the person wants to say: I like cake (pause) cookies.
Where to get help
For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact: