Close up of young woman speaking over phoneStuttering is a manner of talking where a person’s flow of speech is disrupted. Someone who stutters may repeat syllables or pause between words. When stuttering is common enough to interfere with normal speech, it is classified as a speech pathology.

What Is Stuttering?

Stuttering is when a person stumbles over their speech. Stuttering may also be called “stammering” or “speech disfluency.” Many people stutter on occasion. Stuttering is particularly common when people are nervous or unsure of themselves.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, stuttering can occur in three forms:

  • Prolongation: Stretching out a sound.
    • Example: “I think a sssssnake just came out of that bush.”
  • Block: Having a long pause before a word
    • Example: “Do you know where the … snake went?”
  • Repetition: Saying a word (or part of a word) multiple times
    • Example: “I w-w-want to go home.”

People may show physical behaviors as they stutter. Some may blink rapidly as they repeat a syllable. Others may have trembling lips during a block.

Someone who inserts an “um” or “uh” into their speech is not stuttering. Forgetting one’s train of thought does not count as stuttering, either. Repeating entire phrases may be a sign of speech pathology, but it would not qualify as stuttering.

What Causes Stuttering?

The most common form of stuttering is developmental. Young children periodically stutter as they learn to speak. The behavior usually begins between ages 2 and 5.

All types of stuttering tend to get worse with stress. Stuttering tends to run in families. It is 3-4 times more common in boys than girls. These facts may indicate a genetic influence. Some theories claim stuttering is caused by small differences in how the brain creates speech.

PubMed Health estimates that 5% of people stutter at some point during childhood. For most children, the stuttering goes away on its own after about six months. Yet there are cases where stuttering continues into adulthood.

When a person’s speech patterns change after a stroke, they are said to have neurogenic stuttering. In these cases, the brain has trouble communicating with important nerves and muscles.

In rare cases, stuttering may stem from emotional trauma. This is called psychogenic stuttering.

All types of stuttering tend to get worse with stress. If a person is teased for their speech, they may stutter more as they grow self-conscious. Public speaking or phone conversations often increase a person’s symptoms.

How Is Stuttering Treated?

Stuttering often occurs with social anxiety. It can cause people to avoid situations in which they need to talk. Stuttering may also impact one’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

Speech therapy can be highly effective at treating stuttering. A speech pathologist can teach children new speech patterns without making children feel pathologized. They may have children practice saying words without stuttering. Parents can offer support by modeling slow, deliberate speech patterns at home.

Interventions often work best when they are done early in life, but they can help people of all ages. Speech pathologists can help adult stutterers feel less tense when they talk. They may guide people through stressful scenarios such as job interviews. Support groups may also benefit older stutterers.


  1. General information. (n.d.) National Stuttering Association. Retrieved from
  2. Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Stuttering. (n.d.) American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from
  4. Stuttering. (n.d.) Healthline. Retrieved from
  5. Stuttering.  (2012, June 12). PubMed Health. Retrieved from
  6. Craig, A. & Tran, Y. (2014). Trait and social anxiety in adults with chronic stuttering: Conclusions following meta-analysis. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 40(1), 35-43. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 05-15-2018

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