When does it begin?
Stammering usually starts in childhood, often between the ages of 2 - 5 years coinciding with the rapid development of new physical and mental skills. In particular the child is learning many new words, beginning to use longer sentences, expressing new ideas and asking lots of questions.
Stammering is different from other early speech and language problems because it can start at different stages in a child's life.
For some it starts gradually - it comes and goes and seems to be a part of a child's natural attempts to use more and more words. While for other children it can begin quite suddenly, sometimes almost overnight, and sometimes quite severely.
This can be very worrying indeed, for both the child and for their family. And, in some cases, it can disappear just as quickly, within days or months.
If you are concerned, it is best to seek advice early. Don't be put off by the "don't worry" school of thought. We all know that telling ourselves not to worry is usually unhelpful. Practical help is what is needed, which is what we are trying to offer here.
Who is affected?
About 5% of young children experience some difficulty with their fluency at some point. Most will achieve normal fluency with or without help, but about 1% continue to stammer into adulthood.
Some experts would say that it is impossible to predict exactly which children will grow out of it, but current research is beginning to suggest a number of factors which can help us identify those children who are more vulnerable to stammering. We will discuss these in a later section on what causes stammering.
In early childhood, there are nearly as many girls who stammer as boys, but this picture changes over time. It seems that girls also begin to stammer a bit earlier and are more likely to overcome the problem than boys. By the age of ten, the ratio of boys to girls who stammer may as high as 4 or 5:1. This is why we will often refer to the child who stammers as "he" on this website.
How does stammering affect a child?
Children are affected in different ways. Some are not very concerned, while others can be very aware of a difficulty with their talking and get cross or upset. Some may show signs of struggling with their words and frustration with their inability to say what they want to say.
The amount of stammering that the child is experiencing is not necessarily linked to their level of awareness or concern about it. For some children, a seemingly mild stammer can have a big impact on their lifestyle, while for others an apparently severe level of stammering doesn't seem to hold them back in the least.
Does stammering change over time?
Stammering can change daily and from situation to situation and looking for signs that it is getting worse will increase your anxiety - and maybe the whole family's. Trying to notice what the child is doing well is more helpful.
If you notice changes in your child's speech it may be his or her attempt to speak more fluently. Throughout childhood, the range of speaking situations that a child encounters will increase and his or her awareness of the problem may be growing as a result. It becomes even more important to pay attention to the times when the speech is more fluent and notice what it is about those situations which seems to be helpful.What causes it?