What Causes Stuttering in Toddlers? – Symptoms & Types

By: VocoVision

When your toddler begins to stutter, it can cause anxiety and stress for the entire family. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the different causes of this condition.

What is Stuttering?

Many people have observed stuttering, but what exactly is it? ASHA’s stuttering definition is when someone gets stuck on certain words when speaking, feels uncomfortable while talking, and changes specific words to avoid stuttering. Stuttering symptoms include part-word repetitions, one-syllable word repetition, prolonged sounds, and blocks or stops.

Secondary Behaviors of Stuttering

Besides the more obvious signs of this condition, a stuttering disorder can cause secondary behaviors. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Eye blinking
  • Jaw jerking
  • Involuntary body movements
  • Head nodding
  • Word substitutions
  • Use of interjections
  • Sentence revisions

These behaviors often arise as ways to hide a stutter and result in embarrassment for speakers who suffer from this condition.

What Causes Stuttering?

So, what causes stuttering in children? Some possible stuttering causes include:

Cognitive Ability

Research shows that there are notable brain differences between those who stutter and those who do not. Specifically, stutterers may use the right hemisphere of their brain more than non-stuttering people. Individuals with the condition also showed longer reaction times in complicated tasks (Kikano & Prasse, American Family Physician, May 2008). However, this research has been limited to adults, so it is not proven that children’s cognitive development influences stuttering.

Family History

There is growing evidence that stuttering may run in the family. In one study, almost 70% of twins who stuttered were linked to a genetic background of the condition.


From toddlers to adults, males are much more likely to stutter than females – twice as many in children, and up to five times as many adults. Boys are also more likely to continue stuttering through an older age.


Children who begin stuttering at a later age – past 3.5 years – are likely to have the condition for a longer time.


Environmental factors, such as negative social situations and stressful experiences with speaking at a young age, can lead to stuttering issues. In speaking situations where a child stutters, studies show that anxiety rises and the stutter worsens, compounding the problem.

These reasons for stuttering are varied, but toddlers can experience any combination of them together at once.

Types of Stuttering

Several different types of stuttering can affect children, and each has its own qualities and characteristics. From mild to severe stuttering, these are the primary categories of the condition.

Neurogenic Stuttering

Sufferers of this form often sound halted in their speech. Instead of a smooth, flowing speech pattern, they will struggle to form words and experience interruptions. Most people with neurogenic stuttering had a disease or injury that impacted their nervous systems. It most commonly affects adults, who before the injury or illness, had no speech issues. It can be challenging to treat, as the damage occurred in critical regions of the brain and spinal cord. This version is prevalent in older people.

Psychogenic Stuttering

Psychogenic stuttering is unique. Instead of stuttering at the start of words, as you would find in developmental stuttering, repetitions and blocks can occur anywhere in the word. It mainly impacts phonation and articulation. Secondary behaviors are minimal, as well. It is usually caused by emotional trauma or stress and can affect people of all ages, including small children. It is increasing in prevalence and is often treated in tandem with psychologists and mental health professionals.

Developmental Stuttering

This form of stuttering is the most common type. As children grow and develop, many will experience various levels of speech issues. Some of the causes include an inability to match the demands of expressing increased verbal tasks, speech motor control abnormalities, genetics, and negative speaking situations. Fortunately, there are extensive research and treatment options for developmental stuttering. Many children who are identified early and work with SLPs and other speech therapists can manage or overcome their stuttering concerns.

My Toddler is Stuttering – What Should I Do?

If your child is stuttering all of a sudden, try not to panic. Stuttering occurs naturally in many toddlers and goes away on its own. A two-year-old who is just learning language will struggle with new sounds, and it may sound like stuttering as they try to achieve speech milestones. If the stuttering is minor, many children will overcome it by five years old. However, if you notice the condition getting worse in those years, or if your child still stutters beyond age five, it is a good idea to contact a doctor. The earlier the child begins treatment, the more likely they can remedy their stutter. There are clear paths to take for a toddler suddenly stuttering. The speech-language professional will administer a stuttering assessment to determine the type, symptoms, and possible causes of your child’s condition. From that point, they will develop a plan to address the situation, to help your child learn how to stop stuttering.

Facts About Stuttering

A stuttering problem can cause anxiety. However, knowing the facts can help alleviate some concerns.

  • Stuttering when nervous is normal and not always a sign of an underlying condition.
  • Many forms of stuttering are treatable to the point where they disappear over time.
  • Many famous people stutter, including Shaquille O’Neal, James Earl Jones, and Marilyn Monroe.
  • It is so common that there is a dedicated day of recognition – International Stuttering Awareness Day, which is on October 22.
  • Most children experience stuttering between 2 and 5 years old.
  • Overcoming stuttering is possible. Much of the success hinges on which type it is and how early you identify it.
  • There are many new apps designed for people who stutter.

Frequently Asked Questions About Stuttering

Here at VocoVision, these are the most commonly received questions about stuttering.

Is stuttering a disability?

Stuttering is a speech disability, qualifying under the Social Security Disability Insurance Program. It falls under the Speech umbrella in an IEP, as well.

Is stuttering genetic?

There is mounting evidence that it is genetic, as many individuals who stutter have other family members who do, too.

Can anxiety cause stuttering?

Yes. Anxiety, emotional stress, and depression can all lead to varying levels of stuttering.

Cluttering vs. stuttering: What’s the difference?

Cluttering is disorganized, rapid speech, often hard to understand. Stuttering is a disfluency of verbal expression that causes mispronunciation, interjection, and repetition.

Are ADHD and stuttering connected?

Research shows that over half of stutterers also have ADHD, so there seems to be a significant link.

Are stuttering and autism connected?

Stuttering can increase in those with autism as a result of emotional distress and social unease.

Is stuttering after a concussion normal?

Stuttering is a common symptom of a concussion and usually goes away after three months.

What is covert stuttering?

This form is when a person tries to hide their stuttering from others.

Are aphasia and stuttering connected?

Aphasia is connected to certain types of stuttering, specifically neurogenic or psychogenic versions, in which brain damage occurred.

Does reading help with stuttering?

Practicing reading slowly can help stuttering. Forming sounds deliberately and slowly can lower anxiety and provide valuable speech practice.

Can a brain tumor cause stuttering?

Yes. Tumors can affect temporal and frontal lobes, which control speech and language functions.

Do tongue twisters help stuttering?

Tongue twisters can help with pronunciation and fluency, lessening the intensity of a stutter.

Can a seizure cause stuttering?

Seizures can cause brain damage, which in turn can lead to stuttering.

Can you grow out of stuttering?

Between 75 and 80% of children outgrow stuttering without interventions.

If you are a parent interested in getting your child speech therapy services, request a free consultation below!

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