Many children in the early language developing years (anywhere from one to five years old) pass in and out of stages of increased disfluency. This is often seen when children go through a time of rapid language growth, where they increase their vocabulary and begin to combine words into short phrases. Children may frequently struggle with word finding in connected speech and repeat sounds and syllable shapes as they ‘look for’ the right word. They also use fillers, such as “uh” or “um,” in conversation.
Young children may repeat the sounds at the beginning of words (“Ka-ka-cookie”) or they may repeat whole words at the beginning of phrases (“My-my turn”). Normal disfluencies are two- to four-repetitions long (“I-I-I want ice cream”) and the child will continue their phrase without pause. The majority of typically developing children are unaware that they are disfluent and show little to no signs of frustration. They often do not follow a pattern of disfluency, but may experience times of increased disfluency when they are excited, tired, upset, or when under stress to talk or answer questions. They may be disfluent for a few days or weeks at a time, and then enter periods of relatively fluent speech. This occurs naturally as children learn how to use language in a new way. These periods of disfluency are considered age-appropriate and usually disappear on their own.
As a parent, you can support your child by allowing him or her to finish their word/phrase on their own before responding. Acknowledge their communication attempt by giving them plenty of time to communicate and use slow, unhurried speech in your response.
Moderate to severe stuttering is characterized by longer repetitions, effortful speech, and tense facial muscles. Children with atypical disfluencies may experience a ‘block’ in speech, where no airflow or sounds occur for a few seconds. They may become embarrassed about talking or avoid talking altogether.
If you have any concerns about your child’s fluency or communication skills, email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a speech-language evaluation with one of our experienced clinicians.