Signs of stammering 

Stammering in young children usually involves some obvious outward signs, as well as some less obvious signs.

Problems will usually become apparent while your child is still learning to speak, with most stammers developing between two and five years of age.

You may only notice a problem developing gradually, although in some cases stammering can start suddenly.

Typical signs

Outward signs of a stammer can include:

  • repeating certain sounds, syllables or words when speaking, such as saying 'a-a-a-a-apple' instead of 'apple'
  • prolonging certain sounds (not being able to move on to the next sound), for example saying 'mmmmmmmilk'
  • lengthy pauses between certain sounds and words, which can make it seem as though a child is struggling to get the right word, phrase or sentence out
  • using a lot of 'filler' words during speech, such as 'um', 'ah' and 'you know'
  • avoiding making eye contact with other people

Stammering can be worse in situations where the child is conscious of their speech and may be trying harder not to stammer. These situations might include:

  • talking to a person in authority, such as a teacher
  • giving a presentation at school or college in assembly or in class
  • reading aloud
  • speaking on the telephone
  • saying their name in registration at school

Associated behaviours

A child with a stammer can also develop some associated physical behaviours that can include involuntary physical movements such as eye blinking, quivering lips, grimacing, tapping the fingers or stamping the feet.

    Less obvious signs of stammering can include:

    • deliberately avoiding saying certain sounds or words thought to provoke a stammer
    • adopting strategies to hide a stammer, such as a person claiming to have forgotten what they were trying to say when they have trouble getting words out smoothly
    • avoiding social situations because of a fear of stammering, such as not asking for items in shops or not going to birthday parties
    • changing the style of speech to prevent stammering, for example talking very slowly or in an unusual tone of voice
    • feeling negative emotions such as fear, frustration, shame or embarrassment because of the stammer

    Some children who stammer may also be teased or bullied by other children because of their speech difficulties.

    When to seek advice

    It is common for young children to have some temporary difficulty with their speech. This does not necessarily mean they have a stammer. However, it is always best to seek advice early on in case it isn’t just a period of non-fluent (‘bumpy’) speech.

    A good person to contact first may be your GP, who can discuss your concerns with you and refer you to a specialist speech and language therapist (SLT) if necessary. Alternatively, many speech and language services accept self-referrals from patients and parents.

    You can contact the British Stammering Association helpline on 0845 603 2001 for advice about seeking help and information about the services available in your area.

    It may also be worth seeking advice if you are an adult with a stammer and it is having a significant impact on your social and work life.

    Page last reviewed: 05/08/2014

    Next review due: 05/11/2016