Is My Child Stuttering? How to Identify Typical Disfluencies Versus Red Flags for Stuttering

As a pediatric speech and language pathologist, I often find myself listening as a child tells me, “my mom – my mom – my mom – my mom – likes green!” You may find yourself in a similar situation, waiting for your child’s response, as they repeat sounds, parts of words, whole words, or even phrases. Now, how much of that is typical? The information below will help you determine whether your child’s fluency is characteristic of their age and stage of development, or if there are red flags for stuttering present.

What is Disfluency

A disfluency is anything that interrupts the forward flow of speech. Within every person’s speech, children and adults alike, there are disfluencies present. As adults, we become acutely aware of these disfluencies during times of increased pressure, such as during an oral presentation or an interview. Even something as simple as taking a big breath, sneezing, or coughing can impact our fluency. Some types of disfluencies are typical, while some may be indicative of something more significant, such as a fluency disorder (i.e. stuttering).

So, what is typical disfluency?  

Typical disfluencies include repetitions of whole words (my – my dog is small) or phrases (can I – can I – can I go outside?). They also include interjections (um, like) and revisions (I went to the – I saw a chicken at the farm). With typical disfluency, the speaker does not demonstrate physical characteristics of difficulty, such as increased tension in their face or body.

Developmental Disfluency

Children may have periods of increased disfluency from two to five years of age, as these are years of significant expressive language development. Between these years, children often transition from using single words and two-word phrases to engaging in adult-like conversations. This is sometimes referred to as “preschool stuttering” and consists largely of the typical disfluencies outlined above. If your child is using mostly typical disfluencies in their speech, does not have negative feelings about their fluency, and does not appear to be physically struggling to complete their sentences, then it is likely typical and not cause for concern at this time.

Stuttering

If a fluency disorder or “stuttering” is present, it can lead to breakdowns in communication, which can impact your child’s participation across settings.

What are the red flags for stuttering?

  1. A family history of stuttering is present
  2. Your child is a male
  3. Your child is repeating sounds (b-b-b-ball) or syllables (break-break-fast) in addition or instead of words and phrases
  4. Your child is prolonging sounds (sssssoup)
  5. Your child has periods of time when they are trying to speak, but no words are coming out
  6. Your child appears to be tense or struggling while talking
  7. There are observable secondary behaviors present (i.e. blinking eyes, changing pitch or volume, grimacing)
  8. Your child has negative feelings regarding their speech
  9. Your child is avoiding speaking in general or speaking in certain situations
  10. Your child has been stuttering for over six months
  11. Your child has other speech and language related concerns
  12. Your child began presenting with significant disfluency after three and a half years of age

What can I do?

If your child is demonstrating some of the behaviors above, consider contacting a speech and language therapist who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to encourage fluency, or recommend therapeutic intervention as necessary. In the meantime, visit The Stuttering Foundation’s website for tips for talking with your child.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s fluency, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Ana Thrall Burgoon, M.S., CCC – SLP 
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference:

Coleman, Craig. “How Can You Tell if Childhood Stuttering is the Real Deal?” LeaderLive, ASHA, 26 Sept. 2013.

Photo Credit:Limor Zellermayer via Unsplash

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