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Treatments for Developmental Stuttering

Topic Overview

Two speech therapies for stuttering are indirect treatment and direct treatment.

Indirect treatment

Mild stuttering may require indirect treatment if it doesn't resolve on its own or improve with parent counseling within about 6 weeks. This type of treatment encourages young children to speak more slowly. It may involve breathing exercises and other techniques that can help create a comfortable and relaxing environment in which the child's speech can improve or stuttering may go away naturally. Your child may have limited involvement with a speech-language pathologist, who evaluates and monitors progress while observing and interacting with your child.

Treatment will also focus on how you can support your child at home. For example, you may be taught more ways to slow down your own speech and how to provide opportunities for quiet exchanges with your child, where speaking is optional. Some programs focus on continuing to learn creative ways to give your child positive reinforcement during periods of speech fluency. You will also be shown how to track your child's progress and to keep detailed records.

Direct treatment

Direct treatment (speech therapy) tends to be used if your child's stuttering lasts (persists), gets worse, or is severe. It involves a personal interaction between a speech-language pathologist (speech therapist) and the child who stutters. A main focus is to help keep the stuttering from getting worse. Working with a speech therapist can help your child master certain speech and language skills and feel better about his or her ability to speak.

The therapist teaches your child:

  • How to form words, speak slowly, and relax even while stuttering. Your child can practice these exercises outside of instruction time.
  • How to manage the physical symptoms of stuttering, such as eye-blinking.
  • How to deal with the emotional difficulties that may result from speech problems.

Role-playing and play-based activities are common ways to help your child learn how to apply these strategies. For example, your child may be asked to imagine different situations as he or she speaks and to role-play how others would react. Your child can practice responses and learn to anticipate and manage stressful situations. Also, a therapist may have your child practice speaking in different settings and with different people. For example, your child may start with speaking alone, then in front of a small family group, and then gradually work up to reading aloud in front of others, speaking on the telephone, and talking in front of a classroom.

The therapist also often works with you and other family members. The therapist teaches the family some techniques for building an accepting and calm environment, which is important for improving your child's speech. This training is an extension of indirect treatment, where a calm environment is provided for speech to resolve naturally with little intervention.

You also may be asked to keep detailed records of your child's progress with using specific techniques in the home setting.

Stuttering usually improves gradually over a year or more with direct treatment. Some children may even lose all trace of speech problems. The success of treatment largely depends on:

  • The cause of the speech problem.
  • A child's strengths.
  • The therapist's abilities.
  • The amount of support from parents and family.

Your child will need to practice his or her new skills after the therapy program has ended. Using the skills day after day will help your child continue to speak as smoothly as possible.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • Ashurst JV, Wasson MN (2011). Developmental and persistent developmental stuttering: An overview for primary care physicians. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 111(10): 576-580.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017

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