Stuttering: symptoms, causes and therapies

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Around 80,000 adults in Switzerland stutter. Stuttering usually occurs in children of pre-school age. Most of the time, however, the problem disappears and the children start to speak normally. In certain cases, however, therapy is recommended.

Causes of stuttering

Stuttering isn't a psychological problem, but a neurological speech fluency disorder in which hereditary predisposition plays a role. Although accidents or traumatic events aren't the cause of stuttering, they can contribute to triggering the condition, and for its persistence. Stuttering also has no connection with the person’s social or cultural background, level of education or intelligence. This is shown by the fact that famous personalities such as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill or actor Bruce Willis had a stutter.

How many people are affected?

In most cases, stuttering occurs between the ages of 2 and 5, an important phase of language development. Around 5% of children are affected. According to the German Stuttering Association (BVSS), about twice as many boys as girls begin to stutter. And because girls are more likely to lose their stutter, the ratio rises to 5:1.

In about 3/4 of the children, the stutter disappears by puberty. However, in about 1% of adults, stuttering persists.

Stutter symptoms

Specialists distinguish between a functional and stutter-typical speech fluency disorder. The former is common to nearly everyone – especially in young children during their speech development phase. Typical symptoms include repeated words or syllables, pauses or sentence corrections.

Core symptoms of stutter-typical speech fluency disorder:

  • Repetition of syllables (ro-ro-ro-rose), sounds (m-m-m-motor), and monosyllables (by-by-by car).
  • Stretching of sounds (yyyyyour).
  • Almost as common as repeating and stretching syllables and letters are speech blocks. The person knows exactly what they want to say – for example, when ordering in a restaurant – but cannot get the words out.

Secondary symptoms are more noticeable

In addition to the core symptoms, stutterers sometimes display secondary symptoms that can be more noticeable than the actual stuttering. These are strategies to stop the stutter: for example moving their head and arms, getting louder, making faces. They also try to prevent the problem by whispering, replacing or rephrasing certain words or by inserting filler words such as «um».

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Is therapy absolutely necessary?

In about half of all cases, stuttering in childhood sets in over a period of a few days. However, not every child who starts to stutter needs therapy immediately. Parents therefore shouldn't instantly fear the worst when their child suddenly seems to have developed a stutter. Initially, it’s better to simply observe the situation.

  • If the stutter sometimes stops for a few days, it can be concluded that the disorder may well disappear again.
  • However, if there are no changes or improvements within a few months, it's advisable to consult a specialist.
  • The same applies if parents notice that their child is developing unfavourable ‘stuttering strategies’ such as head/arm movements when speaking or a fundamental reluctance to express themselves.

Aims of therapy

Speech therapy aims to stop this process and, if possible, reverse it. Although about three quarters of children with the condition lose their stutter by puberty, However, in about 1% of adults, stuttering persists. In these cases, speech therapists aim to improve the person's speech fluency and control the stutter so that the person is able to communicate effectively.

CSS Health Coaches can help

When a child stutters, the whole family is affected. Would you like to know how you can help your child and who will support you and your family? The CSS Health Coaches can tell you the causes and offer personal advice on possible therapies and alternatives.


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