How Stuttering Begins

Developmental stuttering usually begins in early childhood. At least 85 percent of all cases begin between ages 2 and 8, with most starting somewhere between ages 3 and 5. Although stuttering is a normal part of speech development for many children, most of them grow out of it as they become more comfortable with speaking. An estimated 20% of childhood stutterers grow up to become adult stutterers.

Childhood stuttering usually starts with simple repetition of sounds, but negative reinforcement from the environment causes him/her to start holding him/her self back from speaking, which leads to blocking.

Blocking is one of the most painful and pronounced characteristics of developmental stuttering and is developed over the years.

Characteristics of Stuttering

The primary behaviors are the overt signs of disfluency that differ from normal disfluencies in that the sounds or words are produced with more effort than is necessary or conducive to fluent speech.

These include:

  • Blocking – closed airways in the throat, larynx, etc. leads to inability to produce air and sound.
  • Repetitions – repeating sounds or syllables. ("d-d-dog")
  • Prolongations – unnatural or involuntary lengthening of sounds. ("mmmmother")

Secondary behaviors are unrelated to speech production but are learned behaviors that become linked to the primary behaviors.

These include:

  • Facial tics – blinking, grinding teeth, biting sides of mouth.
  • Motor tics – grunting, grasping, panting, and other breathing irregularities.
  • Physical tics – tapping feet, clapping hands, head jerking, arm swinging.
  • Avoidance behavior – avoiding situations, words, or people.
  • Word substitution – substituting an easier word to say for a harder word.

Causes of Stuttering

There is no single known cause of stuttering. Some theories of the origin of stuttering include:

  • Psychological – The root of the problem is thought to be some deep, emotional conflict locked away in the unconscious mind. Proponents of this theory believe stuttering can be treated through psychotherapy.
  • Neurological – Stuttering is caused by neurological factors, such as inherited abnormalities in the brain or nervous system. In support of this theory, researchers point to studies showing that stuttering often runs in families and that the risk is even greater if you have an identical twin who stutters. According to this theory, there are neurological differences between the brains of those who stutter and those who don't.
  • Behavioral/Learned – Stuttering is a learned behavior and can develop when a child's parents become overly concerned about ordinary childhood disfluency and label it as "stuttering." As a result, the child becomes increasingly anxious about speaking and tries harder and harder not to stutter. This only makes the stuttering worse.