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Stammering is recognised as a problem with the flow of speech - the repetition or prolonging of sounds or syllables are common symptoms while many sufferers will pause or 'block' for an extended period between words.
Those who suffer with a stammer will often avoid certain words altogether and in some cases, will avoid speaking situations where possible. Many find that they can speak fluently on some occasions but have periods of severe stuttering, while others find they are able to sing or whisper without their flow of speech being interrupted.
In most cases, stammering develops as we begin learning to speak at around the age of three-and-a-half years (developmental stammering), though it can occur in adults who have suffered a severe head injury, stroke or psychological trauma.
What causes a stammer?
Though the precise cause of stammering is still unclear, there are a number of factors which may trigger a stammer.
According to the NHS, there is evidence to suggest that a faulty gene may be to blame, particularly where more than one family member is affected. Recent research has also found that stammerers show low levels of activity in the left temporal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for processing sound and speech.
Emotional problems, either at home or at school, can aggravate a stammer and boys are four times more likely to develop a stutter than girls, though it is not known why.
Diagnosis and treatment
Children often have difficulties with certain words as they learn to speak but this does not necessarily mean they have developed a stammer. A speech and language therapist (SLT) will be able to properly diagnose the problem and suggest the best course of treatment.
Since children with a stammer often become frustrated or embarrassed by their affliction, it is essential that parents remain calm and relaxed about the problem, providing non-judgmental feedback and support. Many sufferers find, for example, that simply speaking more slowly helps but a therapist will be able to advise both adults and children on techniques that may help.
A number of 'anti-stammering' electronic devices are also available, which provide sound feedback and help stammerers to control their voice.
Other treatments aimed at developing social and communication skills, and assertiveness are also available and in some cases, cognitive behavioural therapy can help to identify the causes and triggers that exacerbate the stammer.
If you are concerned about your child's speech development, your GP should be able to refer you to a speech and language therapist (SLT) who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders.
Alternatively, you can contact a specialist directly - visit the British Stammering Association for details of local services.