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UMMC experts identify five behaviors that could spell language need

Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

By: Annie Oeth,

Hearing your child stutter when he or she is trying out a new word may cause concern, but experts at the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Medical Center say that many times, children outgrow the speech disorder.


Dr. Greg Snyder, co-director of the Wheat Laboratory for the Voice, Speech and Hearing Sciences and director of the Laboratory for Stuttering: Science, Therapy and Advocacy Research at the University of Mississippi, said a common misconception is that stuttering is caused by anxiety.

“Scientific evidence clearly supports a neurological origin for stuttering,” Snyder said. “At least five genetic mutations have been documented to result in the neurological processing errors that result in stuttering.”

Whitney Wallace, a speech-language pathologist at UMMC’s Center for Advancement of Youth, said repetition in speech is common among developing children.

“Almost all children have verbal repetition at some point when they are learning to talk,” Wallace said. “They’re learning so many new words so quickly that it sometimes results in a dysfluency.”

She said most children between the ages of 2 and 6 will, at times, repeat sounds, syllables and whole words when speaking. The duration of the repetition varies among children, but it may worsen when the children are tired, under stress or excited.

Whitney Wallace

“When children stutter past the age of 6, we are more concerned that it won’t go away on its own,” Wallace said.

According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, about 60 percent of individuals who stutter have a family member who also stutters. Recent neurophysiology research and brain imaging studies show that individuals who stutter process language differently than those who do not stutter.

“While the data may vary from study to study, there is an approximate incidence of 5 percent of preschool-aged children producing stuttering-like disfluencies at some point during their development, with approximately 80 percent of these children 'outgrowing' stuttering on their own," Snyder said. “The remaining 20 percent of these children, or an approximate incidence of 1 percent of the general worldwide population, will continue to stutter throughout their lifespan.”

More than 70 million people worldwide stutter, including more than 3 million Americans. The speech disorder affects four times as many males as females.

Speech therapy may be needed if a child:

    •  Shows frustration or struggles when speaking,

    •  Grimaces or shows bodily tension when attempting to speak,

    •  Stutters with considerable effort and tension,

    •  Stutters for six months or longer, or

    •  Avoids stuttering by changing words and using extra sounds to get started speaking again.

Wallace said caregivers can help children who show signs of stuttering.

"Parents modeling good, slow speech can help children slow down," she said.

Other ways caregivers can help include:

    •  Giving the child plenty of time to talk without interruption and with the caregivers’ full attention,

    •  Maintaining eye contact with a child who is speaking,

    •  Not telling the child to slow down or repeat something without stuttering,

    •  Not interrupting the child as he or she stutters,

    •  Not finishing the child’s words or sentences,

    •  Not calling attention to the stuttering with facial expressions, words or deeds, and

    •  Keeping the home as tension-free as possible.

Wallace said strategies to manage the disorder can help children reach their full potential.

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