5% of children under five will experience dysfluent speech while learning to talk; about a third of these will not simply ‘grow out of it’. Early intervention by a speech and language therapist can prevent persistent stammering. Onset is commonly between two and five years – the average being 2½ years.
Stuttering in young children is both fluctuating and episodic.
- It varies in severity, according to the situation (for example: with whom the child is talking to, what s/he wants to say, and how s/he is feeling).
- A child may be fluent for days, weeks or months, and then become dysfluent again for a further period. Periodic dysfluency is a feature of early stuttering.
Stuttering is a communication difficulty, not just a speech problem – it can undermine a child’s confidence as well as affect social, educational and employment potentials. Boys are four times more likely to stammer than girls.
The exact cause of stammering is not yet known. It is likely that a combination of factors is involved.
There is a fine balance between what a child is able to do at a particular moment and what people or situations demand of him. Anything affecting this balance can increase dysfluency.
Modern approaches to stuttering therapy are very effective in significantly reducing dysfluency in a young child’s speech. Research has shown that intervention close to the onset of stuttering has a high success rate. Early referral and intervention reduces the need for prolonged and costly therapy later in the child’s life.
Speech and language therapists can ensure that all dysfluent children have the help they need to develop normally fluent speech.
When to refer to Speech Therapy
The following factors have been shown to be characteristic of those children at greater risk of developing a persistent stutter.
A child who has dysfluent speech, or if a parent reports hearing this, and one or more of the following factors are present:
- a family history of stuttering or speech or language problems
- the child is finding learning to talk difficult in any way
- the child shows signs of being frustrated or in any way upset by his speaking
- the child is struggling when talking
- the child is in a dual language situation and is stuttering in his first language
- parental concern or uneasiness
- the child’s general behaviour is causing concern
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