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Stammering, or stuttering, is a relatively common speech problem that occurs in childhood and can persist into adulthood.
Stammering is characterised by the repetition of sounds or syllables (such as saying 'mu-mu-mu-mummy'), prolonging sounds (mmmmmmummy) and pausing or 'blocking' (when a word gets stuck or doesn't come out at all).
It usually occurs at the beginning of speech, and individuals will often avoid words or speaking situations to try to hide it.
It varies in severity from person to person. Also, a person may find they have periods of stuttering followed by times of relatively fluent speech.
Read more about the signs of stammering.
Types of stuttering
There are two main types of stammer:
The rest of this article will focus on developmental stammering.
Who is affected by stammering?
Stammering is common in young children. Estimates for developmental stammering vary, but it is expected that 5-8% of pre-school children will experience a phase of non-fluent speech.
The condition is more likely to persist in males than females, which is why there are four times more men than women with a stammer. The reason for this is unclear.
All ethnic groups are affected equally by stammering.
The causes of stammering are still uncertain, but evidence suggests that inheriting certain genes may increase a child's likelihood of developing a stammer. Read more about the causes of stammering.
About three in four cases of developmental stammering in pre-school children will resolve without treatment.
One out of four will need treatment to prevent a persistent stammer developing. At this pre-school stage, treatment is still highly successful in resolving stammering completely, especially if it is received as soon as possible. Stammers are much less likely to be totally eliminated in children aged six or more.
A speech and language therapist is qualified to determine which children are likely to recover naturally and which need treatment, so an early referral is essential. Read more about diagnosing stammering.
Without adequate treatment, about 1% of older children and teenagers will have developed a persistent stammer. It is estimated that 1 in every 100 adults has a stammer.
Some adults find their stammering improves as they get older. Many will have learnt to control their stammer for most of the time, although certain 'triggers' may make them stammer more, such as stress or having to speak in public.
There are many different speech and language approaches for stammering, which can help people improve their fluency and communication skills.
Electronic 'anti-stammering' devices are also available and can be helpful. These are designed to help people control their speech by providing sound feedback.
Read more about how stammering is treated.