Stammering (or stuttering) is not just a speech problem; it is a problem of communication. It usually begins in early childhood when speech and language skills are developing. It can, however, also start later in childhood, adolescence and adulthood although these incidences are less common.


Medical text written November 1999 by E Christie, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, British Stammering Association, London, UK. Last updated December 2011 by S Ellison, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, British Stammering Association Trustee, Lancashire, UK.

What are the symptoms?

Stammering can be described as stoppages and disruptions, which interrupt the smooth flow and timing of speech. These stoppages may take the form of repetitions of sounds, syllables or words, or of prolongations of sounds so that words seem to be stretched out. Sounds may also become blocked – sometimes silently. Speech may sound forced, tense or jerky. People who stammer may avoid certain words or situations that they think will cause them difficulty.

As a communication problem, for the child or adult who stammers, confidence and self-esteem can be seriously affected. This means people who stammer may experience difficulties in a range of social, educational and employment settings. Sometimes stammering may develop into a ‘hidden’ problem as the person may avoid relationships, situations and opportunities in attempt to hide their stammer. It has been known for parents to believe their child no longer stammers and for partners/spouses to be unaware of stammering when a person becomes so competent at avoidance behaviours.

How is it treated?

Therapy is available for people of all ages who stammer and a variety of treatment approaches may be offered, including individual and/or group therapy. Research has shown that early intervention by a speech and language therapist, especially in the preschool years, may prevent the development of persistent stammering. It is recommended, therefore, that parents seek referral to speech and language therapy as soon as their child shows signs of stammering.

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns
There may be a family history of stammering and a child may also have speech and language difficulties in addition to their stammer – although certainly not always.

Prenatal diagnosis

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