Dysfluent speech can be common in toddlers and pre-schoolers. It is characterised by disruptions in the flow of speech, also called ‘stuttering’. The onset time for dysfluency can vary but most commonly between two-and-a-half to five years old. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, most dysfluencies go away on their own after a short period of time without needing any treatment. Some children can also go back and forth between periods of fluency and dysfluency. When dysfluencies persist and the signs become more frequent, getting professional help early offers the best chance for reducing stuttering.


Cause and risk factors

Dysfluency can start suddenly and in any child. There is no single cause. Current research indicates a number of factors that play a role in the development of stuttering. There are also risk factors that can help predict whether fluency problems may persist, these include:

  • Gender – boys are twice as likely as girls to stutter.
  • Family history – the biggest predictor; about 60% of those who stutter have a close family member who also stutters.
  • Age of onset – children who start stuttering from age four and above and continues to stutter beyond age six are more likely to persist with this problem in the long term.
  • Delayed speech and language development.


Signs and behaviours

Stuttering can come in various patterns and be displayed in different ways. Here are the most common signs of dysfluency:

  • Repeating sounds or syllables – “It’s for the b-b-b-b-b-b-b-baby.”
  • Sound prolongations – “Sssssssssounds good.”
  • Repeating words or phrases – “And and and and I want crackers” or “And I, and I, and I want crackers.”
  • Blockages of speech – opens mouth to speak but no sound comes out
  • Noticeable physical struggle or tension when speaking.
  • Behaviours that go along with the dysfluent periods such as eye blinking, hand tapping or throat clearing).
  • Avoiding speaking or showing apparent signs of fear or frustration during the dysfluency.
  • Substituting words to avoid stuttering.
  • Avoiding talking in certain situations or to certain people. ­­


When and where to seek help

About 75% of stuttering in toddlers and pre-schoolers will eventually stop and is regarded as a normal occurrence. Many children stop stuttering spontaneously without any intervention within months of the starting.

You may want to consult a speech therapist if:

  • there is a family history of persisting stuttering.
  • your child has been stuttering persistently for more than six-to-twelve months.
  • the stuttering started after four years of age.
  • the stuttering becomes increasingly frequent and consistent.
  • your child is showing signs of stress and tension when talking.
  • your child is avoiding speaking to some people and displaying signs of discomfort in social situations.
  • you have other concerns about your child’s speech and language development.


A speech therapist can evaluate your child’s speech and determine if the stuttering warrants intervention. The therapist will help parents decide the best course of action (e.g. monitor your child’s fluency closely, commence treatment and/or participate in parent education). Early intervention for stuttering is very important, as it is more likely to be eliminated when a child is below six years of age. If you have concerns in this area, please consult our speech therapists for further information.