Stuttering in children younger than 6 years old
Stuttering typically begins in children before 6 years of age, most commonly in three year olds. Unlike many other speech and language disorders at that age, it begins after a period of normal speech and language development. This can make stuttering onset particularly distressing for parents, especially so for the one third of cases where stuttering begins in a single day.
The reasons why some children begin to stutter are not fully clear at present. All that is known is that the problem appears as children develop their language skills. However, it is known that genetics is involved and it is known that it is a physical problem, not a psychological one. Nothing about parenting style or the family environment is known to cause stuttering. At present, it appears to be a genetic tendency to have a problem with neural speech processing.
It is known that many children who begin to stutter prior to starting school will recover without treatment by the time they are adolescents. Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to predict which children will recover in that way. Additionally, fewer than 10% of children recover during the first year after onset. This means that treatment is essential during the early years of life if it does not show immediate signs of natural recovery. The Lidcombe Program is a treatment that has been shown with clinical trials to be an effective early intervention.
Early intervention is essential for three reasons. The first is that it is known that children under 6 years old who stutter can receive social penalties from other children in the form of teasing and bullying. Second, if stuttering persists into the school years it starts to become difficult to treat. Third, if stuttering is not treated early it can cause problems later in life.
The best advice that can be given to any parent whose child has begun to stutter is to consult a speech-language pathologist immediately.