Posted On: October 11, 2013 by Patrick A. Malone

Not Every Child Who Stutters Needs Treatment

If your preschooler is a stutterer, there’s good news from a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics. Four-year-olds who stuttered were not found to be different from their peers when it comes to temperament or mental health. Also, their language skills, nonverbal cognition (the nonword ability to think and process information) and health-related quality of life was superior to that of children who didn't stutter.

As interpreted by MedPageToday.com, the study results support the idea that parents should watch and wait instead of trying to intervene as soon as their youngster begins to stutter.

Long-term stutterers often report a lower quality of life, and they may experience lower educational achievement and a higher incidence of psychological problems, such as social phobias. But the Pediatrics report refutes the idea that all stutterers have poorer health outcomes.

Most young children aren’t aware of stuttering, and generally they don’t react to stuttering behavior, especially when it first begins.

Among the study’s findings:


  • More than 8 in 100 children stuttered by the age of 3; more than 11 in 100 did so by age 4.

  • More than 6 in 100 children recovered within one year of the onset of stuttering, and four of them had professional help, typically from a speech pathologist.

  • This rate of stuttering was about twice that of previous reports.


Among factors that predicted the onset of stuttering onset were:

  • mothers with higher education;

  • male gender;

  • twins.


It’s interesting to note that family history of stuttering was not among predicting factors.

Most children, the study shows, resolve their stuttering disorder within about 4 years from its onset, but intervention can help those who don't. Current guidelines, according to MedPage Today, advise parents to wait one year to see if kids will recover on their own before launching into expensive, time-intensive treatment. The new study suggests suggest many could wait longer.

"What we used to think was a disorder that required earlier intervention is a disorder that we could do a more watch-and-see approach with," Irv Wollman, clinical director of speech-language pathology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center told MedPage Today. "Rushing into early intervention may not necessarily be the route to go."

There’s a difference, though, between stuttering and the more troubling symptoms of such distress at the disorder that kids avoid talking, or they talk only with increased physical effort. If that describes your child, it’s time to consult with a speech-language pathologist.

Otherwise, the researchers said the more conservative, wait-and-see approach would reserve scarce resources for the few children for whom stuttering doesn't resolve and who suffer adverse outcomes.

At least one powerful voice has been raised in opposition to that advice. As reported on MedPage Today, The Stuttering Foundation called the study conclusions a "blunder" that could mislead parents into believing that there's little cause for concern or no immediate need to seek help.

"The biggest problem with the data,” said Jane Fraser, president of the foundation, “is that it stops at age 4, just when one might expect to see some harmful effects from stuttering. It is far too early to interpret the findings because we do not know how many of these children continued to stutter and what effects it had on them and their lives."

For The Stuttering Foundation’s advice to parents, link here.

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