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Is It Normal Disfluency or Stuttering in Preschoolers?

Parents frequently call in a state of great concern when they believe their youngster might be stuttering. So the question is, how do we determine when the child is exhibiting normal disfluency or stuttering?

First, let's define our terms. Disfluency is anything that impedes the forward movement of speech. So, when you stop in mid-sentence and say "Um" or "Er" that is disfluency. Or, if you say, "I want, um, I want that", that is disfluency. Stuttering differs from disfluency in both quantity and quality.

Research indicates that preschoolers tend to be highly disfluent. They back up, repeat words and restate much of the time. In fact, one study found that in a language sample taken from a group of 3 year olds, every third word was repeated. What underlies this high degree of disfluency is the child's developing language system.

In other words, the preschool child is developing vocabulary, grammatical structures and the ability to talk about abstract ideas and events. Because these skills are not yet fully developed, there is a lack of automaticity. The child might struggle to find the word he wants to say or the structure needed (as in past tense 'ed') to fully express his idea. So, it appears that for most youngsters, disfluency is part of the developmental process.

Now, we call these "normal" disfluencies, not stuttering. So what disfluencies raise a red flag during a speech evaluation? Sound repetitions (b-b-book) or prolongations (sssssoup) are indicative of a possible fluency disorder. Part word repetitions (be-be-because) are also not typical of developmental disfluencies. Remember, we also said quality and quantity. If a child occasionally repeats or prolongs a sound, that should not be a cause for concern.

However, if you notice that your child is exhibiting speech behaviors such as repetition of sounds, prolongation of sounds in words (as mentioned above), seems "stuck" and cannot get his words out, or exhibits facial tension during speech, this behavior is a cause for concern.

Article Index

CAPD (also called APD) testing

CAPD Therapy

Causes of Hearing Loss in Children?

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Cochlear Implants: Could this help your child with a hearing impairment?

Early Developmental Milestones for Language

Enriching Your Child's Vocabulary

From Speaking to Writing: How to Help Your Child Write Short Sequences

Helping Your Child Learn to Read

Home Treatment for Language Delayed Kids

How Stuttering is Treated, and What You Can Do to Help

How to Crack the Tough Nut of English Spelling

Is It Normal Disfluency or Stuttering in Preschoolers

Lyme Disease and Language Disorders

Multisensory Approaches to Teaching Decoding: What Does That Mean

PECS: A Communication System for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

Phonemic Awareness: What Is It, and Why Do People Talk About It

Simple Strategies for Creating Strong Readers

Speech Vitamins: do they work?

Techniques for Improving Your Child's Literacy Skills

Testing Procedures for Speech, Language and Reading Disorders

The Connection Between Word Retrieval Difficulties (language) and Reading Disorders (literacy)

Using Literacy Activities to Increase Your Child's Knowledge of Current Events and History

Vocal Hygiene ? the DOs and DON'Ts of Maintaining a Healthy Voice

Voice Disorders

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)?

What are the Causes of Articulation Disorders in Children?

What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)?

What is Dyslexia?

What is Language Delay in Children?

What is the Connection Between Auditory Processing Disorder and Reading?

When to Seek an Evaluation for a Young Child's Speech Production