The Causes of Stuttering and How to Treat it

21 December 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Stuttering can be a distressing condition for both children and their parents. In some cases, it may be both severely disabling (in terms of inhibiting communication) and last into adult life.

The causes of stuttering and how to treat it are discussed below.

Stuttering – the causes are a mystery

The exact mechanisms behind stuttering are, unfortunately, unknown.

It is presumed to be a neurological condition that somehow impacts someone’s speech mechanisms but much remains vague and speculative.

What is known is that it is typically passed on via genetics. As such it tends to run in families although again, the exact genes and associated mechanisms are unclear.

In most cases, the condition usually first manifests in the age range of 2-4 years, though it can start later. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that sometimes it may be a latent condition that can be triggered by trauma. It is also generally accepted that although it can’t be caused by stress, the severity of it may be affected by whether or not the child is under stress at the time or is overly tired/excited etc.

Stuttering is NOT:

  • infectious;
  • linked to diet;
  • an indicator of intelligence levels or a forecaster of academic ability;
  • picked up by a child copying another (apart from in some rare imitative cases where typically, the imitating child quickly drops it).

In many cases, stuttering seems to vanish after a relatively short period, making the condition temporary in large numbers of children. However, that is not always the case. It is, therefore, advisable NOT to assume the condition will simply pass but instead to seek your doctor’s advice if you see it starting in your child.

Note that many children have some difficulties in clearly articulating complex sentences as they’re developing language skills. That may sometimes lead to word or sound repetition while they’re thinking and searching for words. Sometimes their sentences get stuck in a loop going back from the end to the start, with the child seemingly repeating itself. These are perfectly normal developmental events that are typically temporary in duration. They are not regarded as stuttering.


There are various forms of stuttering. There is no need to dwell on these here in detail but they may include:

  • getting stuck on the first word or syllable in a sentence and constantly repeating it – i.e., only frequently repeating the first “b” sound in “but I don’t want any”;
  • repeating the first word – “we, we, we…” instead of “we need to go now”;
  • opening the mouth to speak but doing so several times trying to speak before the first word comes out.

Why some children and adults suffer some forms but not others, is again not fully understood.


There is no known preventative treatment for stuttering. There is also no sure-fire way of predicting it other than to say if other family members stuffer, there is an increased possibility a child will develop it.

As the causes are not understood, there is also no cure.

Fortunately, there are therapies and treatments available, once the condition is detected. They aren’t a cure but they can help the child to master stuttering to a point where it isn’t noticeable or is very mild.

In Australia, the Lidcombe Program is commonly used. This involves essentially teaching parents and care providers how to help their child’s speech improve by a process of positive feedback reinforcement, i.e., commenting and giving praise when a child speaks without stuttering. That doesn’t mean criticising the child when he or she stutters, simply reinforcing non-stutter speech.

It may not be applicable in all cases and is typically regarded as being suitable mainly for the under-6s.

The specialists supervising such therapies are called speech pathologists. Your doctor will usually be able to recommend one in your general area.

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