Episode 3: What is Stuttering/Stammering?

Stammering is considered a disorder affecting the fluency of speech. It begins in childhood, and in some cases, lasts throughout life.

Stammering and stuttering refer to exactly the same condition. The difference in name is dependent on where you are. Like in Kenya, it’s referred to as stammering whereas in Australia for example, the term ‘stuttering’ is what is used.

As children experience a rapid growth in their language skills (typically between the ages of 2 ½ yrs and 3 ½ yrs), some children can develop what is referred to as ‘normal dysfluency’.

This however should spontaneously resolve.
Whilst some children have also been known to spontaneously stop stuttering, most do require therapy, which if not given early (below age 6 years) can result in the stutter becoming established, severe and subsequently difficult to treat.

Signs of Stammering

Stuttered speech often includes repetitions of sounds, parts of words or parts of sentences. A child who stutters may also prolong the initial sounds and/or experience a complete disruption to their flow of speech referred to as ‘blocking’. 

A block occurs when the child is about to say a word and finds themselves with their mouth open, but no sound actually coming out for several seconds. Some people who stutter may also experience tenseness during speaking situations and may produce unwanted behaviours when talking such as face grimaces, twitching, etc.

Stammering is characterized by one or more of the following behaviours:

– Repeating sounds, words and/or phrases 
(e.g. s s s- sun; sun sun sun- sun; I will I will I will- I will go)
– Prolongation (e.g. ssssssun- sun)
– Blocking
– Superfluous movements whilst talking 
(e.g. twitching, blinking, nodding, facial grimaces or irregular breathing) 

Ideally, children should receive therapy as early as possible as best outcomes are realised when children who stutter receive intervention before their stutter has progressed on significantly.
And speech therapy is the only evidence-based intervention for children or adults who have a stutter. Please read this post on what speech therapy is.

What causes stammering?

Stammering is considered to be a genetic condition, as in, there is usually a strong familial history. If someone in your family stammers or stammered, it is generally expected that if you’re suspecting that your child is developing a stammer, that it could be true more so if it is for your boy-child.

Boys are 4 to 5 times more likely to stutter than girls. Strange, but true.
However, this is not to say, if your father or husband or even mother stammers or used to, that only your male children can start to stutter.

Nope, I have encountered children, who it is only the female child out of male children who has developed a stutter.
But, generally, statistics show that boys are 4 times more likely to develop a stutter than girls.

Other than the presence of a familiar history of stuttering, some children’s cause of stuttering appears to be idiopathic, meaning, there was nothing specific that pointed to that incidence and this is very common.
Traumatic events in the person’s life can be the precipitating factor to the child’s stutter.

So, what happens when a person stammers?

Usually, it is believed that there is a neural mis-firing in the brain that causes a person to experience a break in the flow or fluency of their words.

It’s a little like the old type-writers which could have particular letters jammed up. So, you’re trying to type ‘s’, but it just isn’t typing and it has nothing to do with you not knowing how to say that particular letter or word, there just seems to be a break in the communication between your brain and your oral muscles; to put it simply.

Also, stuttering is considered a relapse-prone condition and people who stutter tend to exhibit higher levels of anxiety especially around speaking situations. It is not clear whether the anxiety causes the stuttering or the stuttering causes the anxiety.
In addition, stuttering can also result in confidence issues.
These coexisting factors, in my opinion can significantly impact on the progression or management of the condition

The prognosis for managing stuttering

Management of stuttering is dependent on a number of things:

-Whether the child is male or female. As mentioned previously,  boy are 4 to 5 times more likely to stutter than girls

-The timing of the intervention vis-a-vis when the onset of the stutter was

-Whether there is a family history of stuttering

All these can affect how a child’s stutter can be managed

What you can do if you notice your child is stuttering

Stay calm. Seriously, don’t panic and do not draw negative attention to the child’s stutter.
Give them time to finish what they’re saying and do not always finish the sentence for them. If they are experiencing a block, you can ask them to stop and start again.

You should consider having them evaluated by a speech therapist. It’s important to note here that speech therapists cannot promise to cure your child’s stutter, but what they do is manage your child’s stutter using evidenced-based methods.

There are different well researched programs that work really well in managing your child’s stutter.

Thank you so much for tuning in and please check out some of our other resources to learn more about any of the new topics this series has raised for you.

Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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