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Exploring the impact of childhood stuttering

Written by Kylie Smith | Murdoch Children's PhD Student Clinical Sciences, Neuroscience of Speech and Dr Elaina Kefalianos | Murdoch Children's Honorary Fellow Clinical Sciences, Neuroscience of Speech

Ongoing research into stuttering at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has helped improve our understanding of this common childhood communication difficulty.

Stuttering is a common communication difficulty affecting more than one in ten children during the preschool years. Stuttering typically begins when children start combining words into sentences between 2 and 3 years of age. Many people are familiar with repetitive stuttering behaviours such as sound, syllable, word or even phrase repetitions. People may be less familiar however with other stuttering behaviours such as blocks, where a sound seems to get stuck, or prolongations where a sound is stretched out. Stuttering may also involve non-verbal behaviours such as grimacing and eye-blinking when talking. A child may have one or many of these stuttering behaviours and they may fluctuate over days, weeks or months or even disappear completely only to return at a later date.

Many parents report that their child started stuttering quite quickly (over one to three days).  This can be particularly alarming for parents and it is natural to try to look for an event that caused it. In actual fact, it is still not known exactly what causes a child to stutter. While many children who stutter have a family history of stuttering, like a parent or other relative who stutters, this isn’t always the case. Research has found that being male, having a twin or a mum with a higher level of education increases the likelihood that a child will stutter at some point.  

Many children will naturally recover from stuttering, without treatment. Recovery within 12 months of onset is more likely in boys, if stuttering severity is milder or if the child is not repeating whole words. However overall, we are unable to predict which children will and will not naturally recover. As such, it is recommended that if a child is bothered by stuttering or has been stuttering for longer than 12 months, that they see a speech pathologist for an assessment of stuttering. If it is determined that treatment is required, the Lidcombe Program for early stuttering is the evidence based therapy approach most widely-used by speech pathologists in Australia.

Parents can be reassured that stuttering is not associated with an anxious temperament or problems with social-emotional functioning in the preschool years. Also, children who start to stutter in the pre-school years have been found to have better language and non-verbal cognitive skills compared with non-stuttering children. However, this may not be the case if stuttering persists. Stuttering in the school-age years, adolescence or adulthood has been associated with a range of social and emotional consequences including social anxiety, educational underachievement and reduced social wellbeing.

The information provided here is based on research conducted with a large group of children. There are always going to be exceptions to these findings and all children who stutter need to be considered individually. If you have concerns about your child, always seek advice from a speech pathologist who works with people who stutter.  

About us:

The Centre of Research Excellence in Child Language is a collaboration of child language experts from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Griffith University, Newcastle University (UK), Deakin University and La Trobe University. The Centre is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information about stuttering please visit:

To find a speech pathologist please visit:


Kefalianos, E. (2015) The impacts of stuttering, Centre of Research Excellence in Child Language, Research Snapshot 5.

Kefalianos, E. (2015) Stuttering and anxiety, Centre of Research Excellence in Child Language, Research Snapshot 6.

Published articles:

Reilly, S., Onslow, M., Packman, A., Cini, E., Conway, L., Ukoumunne, O. C., Bavin, E. L., Prior, M., Eadie, P., Block, S., & Wake, M. (2013). Natural History of Stuttering to 4 Years of Age: A Prospective Community Based Study. Pediatrics, 132(3), 460-467.

Reilly, S., Onslow, M., Packman, A., Wake, M., Bavin, E. L., Prior, M., Eadie, P., Cini, E., Bolzonello, C., & Ukoumunne, O. C. (2009). Predicting stuttering onset by the age of 3 years: A prospective, community cohort study. Pediatrics, 123(1), 270-277

Kefalianos E., Onslow M., Block S., Menzies R., Reilly S. (2012). Early stuttering, temperament and anxiety: Two hypotheses. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 37(3), 151-163.

Kefalianos E., Onslow M., Ukoumunne O., Block S., Reilly S. (2014) Stuttering, temperament and anxiety: Data from a community cohort aged 2-4 years. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 57, 1314-1322.

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