Is it stuttering or normal disfluency?

faq1Many people are familiar with the term “stuttering.” Stuttering is a disorder which affects the fluency of speech and is characterized by “disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also known as disfluencies.”(ASHA) Based on this definition, it would seem likely that identifying stuttering in an individual’s speech would be an easy task. However, accurate identification of early childhood stuttering comes with it own set of challenges.

Many children often experience periods of normal disfluency as they learn to speak and expand upon their language abilities. We term these disfluencies “normal” or “developmental disfluencies.”  These disfluencies occur most often between ages 2-5 years, and they tend to come and go. They are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning. Anyone who has spent time around a toddler is familiar with the numerous revisions, interjections and filler words that seem to occupy their utterances. However, on the other hand their a a significant amount of children that begin stuttering around the ages of 2-5, and will continue to stutter well into their adulthood, becoming a lifelong disability that can restrict their education, vocational and personal life. So can we help to distinguish between stuttering and normal disfluency?

Diagnosing childhood stuttering relies on observation of the child’s speech to differentiate the early signs of stuttering from the normal disfluencies of non stuttering children. The following are signs and symptoms that speech language pathologists often rely on to help determine if stuttering treatments should be initiated:

  • The child stutters on more than 10% of his or her speech- Children who stutter are two to three time more disfluent than their non stuttering peers
  • The child produces 2 or more iterations in repetitions (repeats sounds more than twice, li-li-li-li-like this)
  • Accessory or concomitant features are evident during moments of disfluency such as Tension and struggle in the facial muscles, especially around the mouth
  • The child avoids stuttering by changing words and using extra sounds to get started
  • The child experiences prolongations over 1 second long (s-s-s-s-s-s-so)
  • Child’s feelings/ attitudes-If the child has expressed that speech is difficult for him or her, that is often diagnostic in itself
  • Stuttering is consistently present or worsens over a period of a few months- stuttering persists beyond a year or increases in frequency or severity in that period
  • There is a family history of stuttering

In my experience, I have found that concerned parents are usually correct! So if you or anyone you know is at all worried about their child’s fluency of speech, consult with a Speech Language Pathologist and set up a Speech and Language evaluation to determine if treatment is the best option!



Curlee. R.F. (1999). Identification and Case Selection Guidelines for Early Childhood Stuttering. Stuttering and Related Disorders of Fluency (2nd Edition)

Guitar, B., & Conture, E. G. (n.d.). If You Think Your Child Is Stuttering… Retrieved November 03, 2016, from

Melanie Yovino, M.A CF-SLP






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