Between the ages of 2-5, many children go through a period of decreased speech fluency. At this time in development, children are acquiring language and learning both speech and non-speech motor control. These factors, in addition to normal daily stressors and excitement while speaking, can contribute to breakdowns in fluency. Repetitions are the most common type of disfluency seen in young children along with interjections, revisions, prolongations, and pauses.
There are several important factors distinguishing a child who is normally disfluent from a child who stutters:
- Frequency of disfluencies: Typically developing children display an average of about 7 disfluencies per 100 words. Children who exhibit a higher level of disfluency are considered borderline, or potentially stuttering.
- Proportion of certain types of disfluencies: Research has shown that children who present with borderline or beginning stuttering have a higher number of part-word and whole-word repetitions, prolongations, and blocks when compared with normally disfluent peers.
- Number of times a word or sound is repeated: A higher number of sound or syllable repetitions per disfluency may indicate borderline or beginning stuttering.
- Tension: Children who stutter demonstrate signs of muscle tension, changes to airflow, irregular rate of repetitions and fixed articulatory postures.
- Escape behaviors: These behaviors can be present in children who stutter, and include eye blinks, head nods, interjections, limb movement etc.
- Awareness and frustration: Children who stutter typically show awareness and frustration when moments of disfluency occur.
If these factors are present, the child may require speech/language evaluation and intervention.
Guitar, Barry. Stuttering: an Integrated Approach to Its Nature and Treatment. 4th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019.