Research suggests that there may be a link between stuttering and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults.

About 3–7% of children in the United States live with ADHD, which affects twice as many males as females. The three primary symptoms of ADHD are a short attention span, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. However, individuals with ADHD may also experience stuttering, which some refer to as stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder.

Individuals who stutter know what they want to say but have issues with the normal flow of communication. The condition presents as prolongation of sounds, repetition of syllables or words, and disruption or blocks in speech.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between ADHD and stuttering and the treatment options.

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ADHD may cause stuttering due to physical differences in the brain.

Individuals with ADHD may have smaller structures in the brain’s frontal lobe, which may mature later. This area helps with language, organization, planning, attention span, and decision-making.

Some research indicates that in addition to physical differences in the brain, individuals with ADHD may have functional abnormalities in the Broca’s area. This area of the frontal lobe contributes to speech production and processing. Therefore, any disturbances in its function could cause speech issues and communication difficulties.

Learn more about the differences between an ADHD brain and a neurotypical brain.

Experts estimate that about 45% of children with ADHD have a form of speech and language impairment.

Approximately 3–6% of school-aged children have ADHD. However, the prevalence is much higher among those who stutter, with 4–26% having ADHD.

Doctors do not know much about stuttering in children with ADHD specifically, except that the language patterns are similar to those in children who do not have ADHD.

Stuttering and ADHD may arise due to anomalies in certain parts of the brain. Various areas of the brain are involved in the production and processing of speech, including:

  • Broca’s area helps people articulate ideas, use words accurately, and produce speech.
  • Wernicke’s area connects with Broca’s area and helps with comprehension and language processing.
  • The angular gyrus helps with complex language function, number processing, memory, reasoning, and the association of words with images and ideas.

Individuals with ADHD may have a smaller Broca’s area and experience functional differences. Research has identified a correlation between reduced blood flow to this part of the brain and stuttering.

Learn more about stuttering.

There is no single test that doctors can use to diagnose ADHD. A 2017 study reviewed the potential of a new test for ADHD in adults, but there is not yet an option for children.

Doctors assess an individual’s symptoms and follow guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to help them make a diagnosis. They may also ask parents, teachers, and other caregivers about the child’s behavior while at home or school or during other activities.

As other issues can cause similar symptoms to ADHD, doctors may also perform physical exams and other tests to rule out other health problems.

Someone with ADHD who stutters may need to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who has specialist training in testing and treating people with language difficulties. When making a diagnosis, an SLP will consider when a person began stuttering and the circumstances. They will also analyze the person’s stuttering behaviors and evaluate their speech and language abilities.

There is currently no cure for stuttering, but various treatment options are available depending on an individual’s age and other factors. A person should work with an SLP to determine the best option for them. A treatment plan may include:

  • Stuttering therapy: During therapy, people learn ways to minimize stuttering, such as speaking slowly, controlling their breathing, and starting with single syllable responses before gradually progressing to longer words and sentences. They may also perform exercises to strengthen muscles in the face and throat. Therapy also helps with anxiety associated with stuttering.
  • Medications: Currently, there are no approved medications for stuttering. However, medications for epilepsy, anxiety, or depression may help with the symptoms.
  • Electronic devices: These devices may help control fluency relatively quickly. One example is a device that resembles a hearing aid and fits in the ear canal. It replays a slightly different version of the person’s voice so that it sounds as though they are speaking in unison with someone else.
  • Support groups: Individuals with speech disorders may experience emotional difficulties. A support group helps people face their daily challenges, and it may improve their outlook.

Doctors often use stimulant medications for ADHD treatment, including methylphenidate (Ritalin), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). These options are effective in up to 80% of cases but may increase stuttering.

Therefore, doctors may opt for nonstimulant options, such as atomoxetine (Strattera), if an individual with ADHD is experiencing stuttering. Research suggests that these medications may reduce stuttering if a person receives them alongside speech therapy. However, they may not be as effective as stimulant medications for other ADHD symptoms.

An individual should work with a doctor to find the best combinations of treatments for them.

Children with ADHD may have articulation disorders that affect how they produce letter sounds. They may also have trouble with the fluency of speech and vocal quality. Sometimes, doctors can detect that an individual has ADHD through their speech symptoms.

Louder speech, pitch variability, and unusual speech patterns, such as an increased number of pauses, may also occur in children with ADHD. They may also use words repetitively or as fillers while organizing their thoughts, which can present as a stutter.

Research shows that some individuals with ADHD who stutter may respond to treatment and overcome their challenges. However, those with more intense ADHD symptoms may have a more severe stutter than others. As a result, these individuals may require more clinical intervention and therapy to achieve speech fluency.

It is important to note that although ADHD may present some challenges, there are also potential positives to having the condition. Learn about these benefits.

ADHD awareness is also extremely important, as it could help more people seek a diagnosis and receive treatment or accommodations. It could also help create more welcoming and accessible schools for those with ADHD. Learn more about ADHD awareness.

Researchers have identified an association between ADHD and stuttering. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty concentrating, behave impulsively, and exhibit hyperactive behavior. Some individuals with ADHD may also experience speech disorders, such as stuttering.

It is possible that changes in the brain cause both ADHD and stuttering. In individuals with ADHD, the structures in the brain’s frontal lobe may be smaller. These areas are involved in language, attention span, and decision-making.

People with ADHD may also have functional abnormalities in Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which controls speech production and processing.

Currently, there is no cure for stuttering, but many individuals overcome the challenges through a combination of stuttering therapy, medications for emotional difficulties, and electrical devices. Support groups can also help people navigate the daily difficulties of living with ADHD and stuttering.