Signs of developmental stuttering up to age eight and at 12 plus

Clin Psychol Rev. 2007 Apr;27(3):287-306. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2006.08.005. Epub 2006 Dec 6.


Clinicians who are familiar with the general DSM-IV-TR scheme may want to know how to identify whether a child does, or (equally importantly) does not, stutter and what differences there are in the presenting signs for children of different ages. This article reviews and discusses topics in the research literature that have a bearing on these questions. The review compared language, social-environmental and host factors of children who stutter across two age groups (up to age eight and 12 plus). Dysfluency types mainly involved repetition of one or more whole function words up to age eight whereas at age 12 plus, dysfluency on parts of content words often occurred. Twin studies showed that environmental and host factors were split roughly 30/70 for both ages. Though the disorder is genetically transmitted, the mode of transmission is not known at present. At the earlier age, there were few clearcut socio-environmental influences. There were, however, some suggestions of sensory (high incidence of otitis media with effusion) and motor differences (high proportion of left-handed individuals in the stuttering group relative to norms) compared to control speakers. At age 12 plus, socio-environmental influences (like state anxiety) occurred in the children who persist, but were not evident in the children who recover from the disorder. Brain scans at the older age show some replicable abnormality in the areas connecting motor and sensory areas in speakers who stutter. The topics considered in the discussion return to the question of how to identify whether a child does or does not stutter. The review identifies extra details that might be considered to improve the classification of stuttering (e.g. sensory and motor assessments). Also, some age-dependent factors and processes are identified (such as change in dysfluency type with age). Knowing the distinguishing features of the disorder allows it to be contrasted with other disorders which show superficially similar features. Two or more disorders can co-occur for two reasons: comorbidity, where the child has two identifiable disorders (e.g. a child with Down Syndrome whose speech has been properly assessed and classed as stuttering). Ambiguous classifications, where an individual suffering from one disorder meets the criteria for one or more other disorders. One way DSM-IV-TR deals with the latter is by giving certain classification axes priority over others. The grounds for such superordinacy seem circular as the main role for allowing this appears to be to avoid such ambiguities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Child
  • Child Language
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Recovery of Function
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Speech Therapy / methods
  • Stuttering / diagnosis*
  • Stuttering / epidemiology*
  • Stuttering / therapy