Causes of stuttering?

| Originally Published: June 27, 2003
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Alice,

Please! What does the latest research explain on the CAUSES of stuttering? Thank you.

Murray

Dear Murray,

No one is sure about what exactly causes stuttering, but experts agree on what doesn't:

  • emotional or psychological trauma
  • shyness or fear of meeting or speaking to people
  • poor upbringing or inadequate parenting

Most experts now believe that stuttering is probably a developmental problem — a roadblock that somehow forms in the process of language development. Small children just learning to speak often repeat a letter sound, word, or phrase ("and ummm,... and ummm,... and ummm") as they mentally search for the next thought or word. This type of stuttering is very common for children between the ages of two and five years, and usually is outgrown in later life as language skills and muscle coordination become more practiced and fluent.

Fewer than one percent of adults stutter. No one is sure why some people continue to have problems with stuttering in later childhood or adulthood. A genetic component may be involved — boys are about three times more likely to stutter than girls, and stuttering seems to run in families.

Stuttering can also be caused by neurogenic disorders, such as when a traumatic brain injury or stroke disrupts the various neural mechanisms required to produce fluent speech.

Children who have had problems with stuttering for more than six months, or who become so embarrassed by their stuttering that they avoid speaking or have emotional distress, need to be referred to a speech-language pathologist by their school or pediatrician. Although no cure for stuttering currently exists, evaluation by a speech-language pathologist can help to pinpoint the mechanism behind the stuttering. This professional considers the onset and history of the stuttering and can fully assess speech and language ability. Various strategies to help reduce stuttering and tension when experiencing a stuttering block can often be taught and practiced at home. Treatment can be successful in many cases, and people can lead healthy, happy, and productive lives.

For more information about the treatment and diagnosis of stuttering, visit the National Stuttering Association web site.

Alice