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My 2.5 year old has recently developed what can be best described as a stutter.

It only seems to occur with us, and mostly when asking a question ("Wh, wh, wh, wh, what's that Daddy?). It's especially pronounced if he is tired.

It doesn't concern us greatly yet, he's happy and sociable. In fact it doesn't tend to occur around strangers.

Update: He's started to garble whole sentences recently, again mostly when he's tired, but he's also started getting noticeably frustrated.

His vocabulary is very wide and still growing quickly - if anything, it feels like his mouth can't keep up with this brain!

Is this similar to others experiences - how did you approach it? Should we ignore it (for now) and make no special effort, or would simple speech therapies help?

Update - 2.5 years later: It was just a phase, passed in a few months. He's near top of his class for reading, writing and spelling (phonetically or not).

As suggested in the great answers (and common with so many aspects of kids growing up), keep an eye on it to make sure it's not an early warning - but don't panic :)

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feels like his mouth can't keep up with this brain is an interesting observation that makes me think it might really be the case, and not actual stuttering. If so, I wonder if training patience and concentration could help. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 20 '11 at 18:58
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9 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

As a speech language pathologist, I've been trained in treating stuttering. Yet, when my own child became dysfluent at an early age, I was baffled and concerned.

Most children go through a period of dysfluent speech (stuttering) between the ages of 2 and 5 years. There is a normal development dysfluency BUT this is also the age that many with TRUE stuttering begin have difficulties. The real question is to determine what is the difference.

Normal dysfluencies are characterized by repeating whole words-often the first in a sentence. There is no tension in the face or mouth and no struggle to "get the words out." You are right on with your observation that this behavior is related to the surge in vocabulary and language that occurs at this age.

True stuttering, however, presents with more tension and struggle. The stuttered words are more likely to be part word (wha-wha-wha-what) or prolonged sounds (wwwwhhhhhhhhat). Facial grimacing or posturing, inability to get sound started, or comments such as "I can't talk" are all indicators of a more serious problem.

An evaluation by a speech language pathologist is always warranted if the problem is of concern to parents. The Stuttering Foundation of America has great information at http://www.stutteringhelp.org. Their publication "If You Think Your Child is Stuttering" has valuable detailed information.

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I was at the University of Alberta while they were doing a 2-week clinic for people (adults) who stutter. The participants that I spoke to said they had made huge progress in that short time. While we were talking, there was very little evidence of a stutter. Some had come to the clinic virtually unable to talk. So, if your child is developing a stutter, take heart; it is treatable. They have some great resources. Early intervention is best.

Here is a website that talks about the causes and some solutions. I was surprised to read that some causes are:

  • "genetics (approximately 60% of those who stutter have a family member who does also);
  • child development (children with other speech and language problems or developmental delays are more likely to stutter);
  • neurophysiology (recent neurological research has shown that people who stutter process speech and language slightly differently than those who do not stutter); and
  • family dynamics (high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles can contribute to stuttering)"
  • and it can be a combination of factors.

There is a section for kids with a video for kids by kids! One child describes stuttering exactly the way you do: his brain talks faster than his mouth can go.

For parents, they suggest:

  • talking slowly with frequent pauses
  • "Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. Children speak more freely if they are expressing their own ideas rather than answering an adult's questions. Instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting him know you heard him."
  • show you are listening by with your body and facial expressions
  • giving your child undivided attention for a few minutes each day
  • teach ach family member to take turns speaking and not interrupt
  • look at how you interact with your child and try to convey that they have plenty of time to talk
  • show that you accept who your child is, whether they stutter or not

They also share some famous people who stuttered. Another site mentions that Colin Firth now has trouble.

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-1: I would have +1'ed this except for the advice that parents should try "making comments rather than asking questions" -- this would hamper the child's speech development. Learning to respond appropriately to questions is essential at this stage of development. –  HedgeMage Jun 21 '11 at 3:47
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I believe the idea is to take the pressure off the child to respond. Commenting on a child's observations rather than quizzing them is another way to interact with the child using language that is less time sensitive. In my experience, parents ask young children a question and maybe wait for a count of 3, if that, before they answer it themselves. Comments encourage more relaxed conversation. –  nGinius Jun 21 '11 at 11:17
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I looked at the comment part differently than HedgeMage, comments to a child's speech aren't a hinderence to development if done right. You can lead in a comment and get them to talk more, I've done it with my son when I can tell he just wants to talk and know I have heard him. –  MichaelF Jun 21 '11 at 12:22
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The question is a very basic part of language-based communication, and a child who hasn't mastered this by age 3.5 or so will have a much harder time learning it, to the detriment of his further social and language development. Simply removing the construct from the child's life over a stutter (a trivial and easily correctable speech artifact that does NOT effect language development) is doing more harm than good. I say this as a parent of a child with a profound speech disorder who spends hours per week working with SLPs on things like this. Catch me in chat if you want to discuss. –  HedgeMage Jun 21 '11 at 18:51
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It depends. Certain things should be treated right away with therapy but stuttering of certain types, switching vowels or consonants, and many other "issues" may be completely normal speech progression, especially in a 2.5 year old. We got my son's speech checked out for a similar reason and the professional determined that it was normal. She turned out to be correct. He progressed past it naturally. Since it is causing concern you should certainly talk to a professional who will be able to tell the difference better than a forum.

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My Niece had a similar problem around the same age and a speech therapist friend advised us that it is not unusual around that age. The best piece of advice she gave us was to avoid drawing attention to it. Don't interrupt your child and left them finish what they're saying.

Now a year on it is not noticeable at all. No more than I could be said to have a stutter when I'm tired.

That said I would echo Peter's advice to consult a professional if it is still causing concern.

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I wouldn't worry about it. Our son did the same thing when his vocabulary was expanding, sometime starting around two years old. He grew out of it after a 2-6 months, he is 5 now and doesn't exhibit any of the stuttering behaviors.

There is enough things to spend energy on when it comes to parenting (modeling and teaching integrity, enjoying your children, having a healthy marriage, etc.) Don't worry too much about your child's vocal-explorations :)

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To answer your question of whether you should ignore this, I would say this:

My philosophy is that if I'm asking the question on the internet, I should be asking my child's doctor. A corollary to this is that if my doctor isn't taking my questions seriously (even if this is the 14th time they've heard this question this week!) then it's time to find a new doctor.

You're the parent. You have a right to be concerned. Your doctor may say it's completely normal. But even in that case, you've taken advantage of an opportunity to get to know your ped better and maintain that relationship with him/her. Your doctor may say that there's an issue and then you've set your child up for early intervention. Either way, you get to go to sleep at night knowing you've done what you could. Your peace of mind is valuable, too!

As far as "how" to address this, I would suggest:

  • Making a little journal to note when he seems to show the problem.
  • Including in that journal notes on what exacerbates the problem.
  • Including what seems to help resolve the problem.
  • Indicating when he gets frustrated.
  • Make a video/audio recording of your son stuttering.
  • Take all of the above to the pediatrician along with your son.
  • See if you can get your son to replicate the stuttering in the ped's office; otherwise use the tape. (Since you said he seems to do this most around people with whom he's comfortable, the tape may be of particular value here.)
  • Go over the journal with the ped to see if there's any kind of pattern. Take copious notes.

If the ped doesn't think it's a major issue, I'd suggest music to help your child develop better speech rhythm.

  • If he's getting frustrated, perhaps singing what he's trying to tell you will force him to slow down and concentrate on the words.
  • It may also help to use some kind of tactile motion to coordinate his words. Clapping might seem odd to people outside your family, but even tapping his finger against his palm for each word or syllable may help him to focus on his meter.
  • A park district class or library class on basic music for toddlers might also help him achieve better rhythm that translates into better speech.
  • A park district or library class on basic dance might help as well, for the same reasons.
  • He may be a little young for a kids' choir but if your local music school or park district offers toddler singing group lessons, this might help him gain better breath control and awareness of the sounds coming out of his mouth.

Good luck!

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This doesn't answer the question. I'll remove my downvote if you edit your answer to address the "how" of the question. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 6 '11 at 13:11
    
Yeah...good point. I was mostly looking at the poster's last line, asking if it should be ignored or not. –  Corvus Melori Jul 7 '11 at 23:05
    
OK, @TorbenGB , edited to be (hopefully) more helpful! –  Corvus Melori Jul 7 '11 at 23:16
    
+1 for the idea of emphasizing rhythm. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 8 '11 at 6:43
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I am a qualified child developmentalist, I also treat children who have developmental disabilities, including language and communication impairments in children. It is perfectly normal for a child to pass through a stage where they stutter, - the overwhelming majority of children do so. As long as there are no other developmental symptoms and the stuttering lasts no more than a few months, then you have nothing to fear. You allude to the cause yourself when you say that his vocabulary is expanding and his mouth can't keep up! - Not couched in technical terms, but I like it and it hits the nail on the head.

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Our son had a similar issue around his 2nd birthday, where he often repeated the first syllable(s) of a sentence 5.. 8 times and then said the word completely (often but not necessarily in situations where he was excited or nervous).

I'm not an expert for development of children and their ability to talk, but I consider him quite ahead for his age (also at that time) concerning his ability to express himself and quite complex things.

We found a national organisation which supports parents (in Germany: http://www.bvss.de/ Bundesvereinigung Stotterer-Selbsthilfe e.V. ). They offered a free telephone hotline at certain dates where we got some advice and they sent us material (brochures etc.) and addresses of speech therapists in our region via mail.

The speech therapist on the hotline asked me several questions about the nature and frequency of the "stuttering". She also wanted to know if the child itself seemed to be frustrated about its inability to speak "directly", which was not the case from our point of view.

The essence of her (the speech therapist's) advice was:

In 80% of the cases, this is a normal part of speech development (in my words: "if the brain is faster than the mouth") which disappears on its own. As in our case there was only one of the several possible symptoms of stuttering, the speech therapist advised us to observe the development for about 6 weeks considering the following aspects and then call again, in case the symptoms have not disappeared or even get worse for further advice:

Aspects to consider:

  • does the number of repeated syllables increase or decrease over time?
  • does the "tension" of the child increase?
  • does his frustration increase?
  • do additional symptoms appear?
  • is the stuttering dependent on time/situation/number of persons.

What parents can do:

  • "unburden" the child: parents should talk more to the child and less often request the child to speak (e. g. after reading a story before going to bed not asking the child to retell the story, but just wait if it wants to do it on his own)
  • be patient and give the child time for speaking (not interrupting it)
  • say verses or sing songs with the child together as they often are easier to pronounce than "normal" sentences
  • speak slowly

well, we waited for some weeks and the phenomenon disappeared. Our son is now 3,5 years old and from time to time, there is a little "stuttering" (repeating some first syllables) but we consider that quite normal as he's talking a lot and also says quite difficult sentences.

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I haven't read everything here, so I apologize if I miss something. My son has been stuttering since he started talking. I also notice that he does it more when he's nervous.

What I've found is that I make every effort to give him all of my attention as gracefully as possible when I notice him stuttering. I get down on one knee (his height) and I gently place my hand on him and talk to him softly. Doing whatever it is that I can, in order to make him as comfortable as possible.

It has seemed to work. I'll tell him to calm down and talk slower. I don't talk over him or finish his sentences. I know it's because his little mind is either thinking so fast or he can't think of the next word.

In all, the love and grace that I can show him has worked so far.

Good Luck.

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Your giving him supportive attention is a very useful strategy. I've also found that when the adult models slow easy speech, the child also benefits greatly. –  Marie Hendrix Jul 27 '11 at 1:55
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