It is often difficult to distinguish between the normal stumblings of a young child and
stuttering, especially because children with normal disfluencies show many of the same
patterns found in stuttering. About one percent of the total population suffers from
stuttering. A greater percentage experiences disfluency for a temporary period. Stuttering
occurs more frequently in boys than in girls, at a ratio of 4:1.

Several warning signs suggest a child may be stuttering. First, a family history of stuttering
is significant. Recent research has isolated a gene that may be responsible for some cases
of stuttering. Second, studies have shown that 86 percent of children who stutter have a
history of otitis media. Although the research is not conclusive, it has been shown that
many children who stutter also suffer from allergies. Because of the impact of allergies on
breathing patterns, these children experience greater speech impediments during the
allergy season, and stuttering gets worse when the child's allergies are more problematic.
Another indicator for stuttering is a child's noted difficulty in initiating words. This is called
a block. Blocks are often accompanied by tension or tremors around the oral
musculature and are generally not observed in children experiencing normal disfluencies
Other stuttering characteristics include pitch rise or a change in loudness when a sound is
prolonged, moments of fear and avoidance. These are all strong indicators that the child is
stuttering and not going through a normal phase of disfluency. In addition, these behaviors
seriously disturb the flow of speech and significantly affect communication. Multiple
repetitions; the interjection of sounds, syllables, or words, such as "er" or "um;" the use of
the schwa vowel; and prolongations are often seen in both groups. However, they tend to
occur with a greater frequency in stutterers.

Outcome studies on populations of children with speech disorders are not available.
Nevertheless, research has shown that early identification and intervention is quite
effective and leads to favorable outcomes. If a child has the the above cited risk factors a
nd speech patterns, a referral to a speech/language pathologist for an evaluation would be
appropriate. Source: Medical Capsule by Gregory N. Larkin, M.D.
Sreenivasarao Veapchedu, 06/26/98

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