Typical Disfluencies vs. Stuttering in Children

by Team Stamurai

Watching your child grow up is one of the best gifts ever. Their first attempts to roll over, their cute smiles, and their babble bring heaven to the earth. As they grow up their language and vocabulary typically expand as well. They go from saying single words to constructing full sentences.

Very soon “Mommy juice” and “Daddy candy” turns to “Mommy, I want some juice” and “Can I please have some candy?”

Understandably, children struggle when they first learn to speak and try to form complete sentences. Sometimes, children mispronounce words and have trouble with the bigger words too. These can be genuinely concerning. Asking “is my child stuttering” is not at all uncommon during these instances.

Fortunately, some disfluencies go away on their own. As children get a good grasp of language skills, they begin to form sentences more boldly, show fewer moments of hesitation, and pronounce words correctly.

Most parents learn to accept small instances of stuttering as a natural part of speech & language development in their child. Disfluency is a popular term, used to describe the normal disfluencies that occur during speech.

However, in the case of childhood-onset fluency disorder, stuttering treatment may be necessary even for children.

What Are Normal Disfluencies in a Child’s Speech?

Normal disfluencies are very typical for young children or toddlers.

They should not raise a red flag since almost all children go through a phase of disfluency irrespective of their mother-tongue.

It is especially common in children who grow up in multilingual homes and are learning multiple languages simultaneously.

  • Interjections – It may be when children insert additional sounds within a sentence. For example, “I ummm want pizza.”
  • Hesitations – This is when children include additional sounds of hesitation in a sentence. For example, “I want to … see gramma.”
  • Multisyllabic (whole) word repetitions – This is where children repeat a whole word. For example, “You you are pretty.”
  • Phrase repetitions – This is where a child may repeat the entire phrase or part of a sentence. For example, “Jack is Jack is Jack is my new friend.”
  • Phrase revisions – These can be in the form of abandoned sentences or incomplete utterances. For example, “I want…can I have some juice?”

According to some pediatricians and researchers, children may go through normal disfluency because they are learning or acquiring multiple skills at the time.

Disfluency is very common in younger children. They may appear particularly disfluent when excited, tired, upset, or speaking fast. Typical childhood disfluencies may increase and decrease without any external influence. Eventually, they disappear after a few weeks or months.

In the cases of normal disfluencies, children are hardly aware of them. They exhibit no signs of frustration or surprise.

Understanding Early-Onset Developmental Stuttering

Telling normal disfluency apart from childhood-onset of stuttering is indeed tricky. Stuttering is a fluency disorder that makes it difficult for a person to produce smooth speech.

If you are asking yourself - is my child stuttering?-  the following information will help you understand whether the disfluency you have been observing is normal or points towards childhood stuttering.

  • Monosyllabic word repetitions – Children repeat words that consist of one syllable only. For example, “I-I-I-I want to go out.”
  • Syllable or sound repetitions – Children repeat a particular sound or syllable from a multisyllabic word. For example, “a story be-be-be-before bed.”
  • Prolongation – The child may prolong a particular sound. For example, “Iiiiii want a ball.”
  • Blocks – Silent prolongations or vocal blocks are instances when no sound comes out. It’s common for a child to block before hard consonants like /b/, /k/, /p/, /c/, /g/, /d/, and so on.

Almost 5 out of 100 children go through a period of stuttering that persists for about 6 months or longer. Around 75% of them will recover spontaneously without any stuttering treatment. However, approximately 25% will go into adulthood with mild to severe speech disfluencies.

When you are wondering whether your child is stuttering, you need to look for the signs of mild and severe stuttering in children.

Is My Child Stuttering? Look for these Signs of Mild Stuttering In Children

Children who stutter mildly will exhibit disfluencies that are similar to typical disfluencies in children. However, they will have a higher frequency of repetitions. They may also have more repetitions each time they stutter.

A telltale sign of childhood-onset disfluency or stuttering is the persistence of stuttering. In the case of mild stuttering, the disfluencies appear to be more regular as compared to normal or typical speech disfluencies in kids.

The child who stutters mildly may not be concerned about the problem, but they may show signs of discontent, frustration, or embarrassment due to stuttering.

Is My Child Stuttering? Look for these Signs of Severe Stuttering In Children

In the case of severe stuttering in children, you may even see some physical tension associated with the repetitions, prolongations, and blocks.

It can begin anywhere between the ages of 18 months and 7 years.

When the speech disfluencies are noticeable in almost every sentence or phrase, it may be characterized as severe stuttering.

Secondary behaviors associated with severe stuttering in kids may be uncommon, but your child may blink rapidly, close their eyes, look away, or exhibit physical tension during stuttering.

When Should Parents Seek The Help From A Speech Therapist?

If you have noticed some signs of stuttering but are still asking yourself - is my child stuttering - you should consult a speech-language pathologist.

Mild to severe stuttering in children may persist especially if they have been stuttering for 18 months or longer.

Parents of a child may seek counsel from a speech therapist if –

  • They have a family history of stuttering
  • The age of onset is late (after 3 years)
  • The stuttering has persisted for longer than 6 months
  • There is a high frequency of disfluencies in speech
  • The child is showing secondary behaviors associated with stuttering
  • The child is male (stuttering is more common in males than females)
  • The child has co-existing speech-language disorders

A speech therapist may recommend indirect therapy methods or pursue the Lidcombe Program for addressing your child’s stuttering.

Research shows that early intervention is helpful in restoring a child’s fluency. If stuttering is not treated properly and on time, a child may continue to stutter as an adolescent and adult. Stuttering treatment for adults typically takes more time.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech, you should consult a speech-language pathologist immediately.

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