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How to help a stammering child

It is not uncommon for a child between the ages of 2 and 5 to have a period of temporary stammering. This is a crucial time for speech and language development. The stammer may persist for a couple of weeks or months. Other children never grow out of this speech disorder, continuing to stammer into adulthood. Whether or not your child's stammer is temporary or permanent, learn all you can so you have the resources you need to help your stammering child.

What is stammering?

Stammering - also known as stuttering and "disfluency" - is a speech disorder, which the British Stammering Association says, affects approximately 109,000 children between the ages of 5-16, and 459,000 adults, that’s 1% of the adult population.

Stammering occurs when normal speech is interrupted by the repetition or extension of certain sounds or words. Stammering can range in frequency and intensity from mild to severe. Stress can sometimes make it worse. The struggle to speak may be accompanied by physical gestures or movements.

Causes of stammering

Experts don't know for sure what causes stammering in a child, but most believe that the speech disorder occurs as the result of a variety of factors. They may include one or more of the following:

  • Genetics. Most experts agree that stammering has a genetic component. 60% of all people who stammer have a close family member who also stammers.
  • Developmental stammering. Many young children go through a period of stammering beginning at the age of 18 months to 2 years, as they hone their speech and language skills. This form of stammering is usually temporary.
  • Neurological factors. Research has found that people who stammer process language differently than those without the speech disorder. In some cases, there seems to be a problem in the way language is transmitted through the brain. Scientists don't know exactly why this occurs.

Risk factors for stammering

How do you know whether a stammering child has a temporary developmental problem, or a more serious speech disorder that warrants intervention? According to the Stuttering Foundation, the following factors put your child at greater risk:

  • Family. Your child is at higher risk if he or she has one or more family members who stammer in adulthood.
  • Age. Children who begin stammering before they reach age 3½ are more likely to outgrow it.
  • Length of time stammering persists. If your child's stammering habit lasts longer than 6 months, it is less likely that he or she will outgrow it.
  • Gender. Boys are three to four times as likely as girls to stammer.
  • Other speech and language deficits. If your child has other problems speaking and being understood, it is less likely that he will outgrow his stammer.
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