Fluency 101: Causes of Stuttering - Hearing and Speech Agency

Fluency 101: Causes of Stuttering

PART ONE | Fluency 101: What is Stuttering?


There is no agreement on a single cause of persistent stuttering in children. Most experts agree that stuttering likely results from an interaction of several important factors. Typically, four factors are cited as significant. Those factors are:

  • Genetics/heredity: There is a strong family influence on the appearance of stuttering. Research studies have supported this strong family link across the generations, among siblings, and especially with identical twins. Males are more likely to stutter than females.
  • Child development: Children who experience delays in other areas of communication, motor skills, and cognitive skills may be at a greater risk for stuttering onset. Persistent stuttering usually arises between ages 2 and 5.
  • Family dynamics: Children in households in which there is a difference between the demand to perform and the capacity to do so, with regard to communication, are at risk.
  • Neurophysiology: Brain imaging studies, observing brain activation during conversation and other linguistic tasks, reveal differences in brain performance between people who stutter and those who are typically fluent.

In older children, teenagers, and adults who suddenly begin stuttering, the cause may be different. Neurogenic stuttering may present following a physical trauma such as a stroke or assault, but may also result from ingesting chemicals or drugs. The onset may occur at the time or trauma or shortly after the event during recovery. An interrupted speech pattern or change in rhythm may result.

Psychogenic stuttering is less frequently observed; it is associated with psychological trauma and abuse. The onset is sudden, dramatic, and may appear during or following the situation. Typically, moderate to severe blocking behavior is observed in psychogenic stuttering, making communication difficult.

Research supports that many children who experience non-fluent speech will outgrow their stuttering. More accurately, they will mature into their speech and language. Factors favorable to “spontaneous recovery” of developmental stuttering are:

  • No family history of fluency disorders
  • Decrease in frequency/severity over the last six months
  • No co-occurring speech or language problems
  • Female versus male
  • An “easygoing” temperament; not emotionally impacted by their speech difficulty

Jennifer Smith is a speech-language pathologist at The Hearing and Speech Agency

Hearing and Speech AgencyHarry and Jeanette Weinberg Building 5900 Metro Drive Baltimore, MD 21215 410.318.6780