American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
What is stuttering?
Stuttering affects the fluency of speech. It begins during childhood and, in some cases, lasts throughout life. The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.” Most people produce brief disfluencies from time to time. For instance, some words are repeated and others are preceded by “um” or “uh.” Disfluencies are not necessarily a problem; however, they can impede communication when a person produces too many of them.
In most cases, stuttering has an impact on at least some daily activities. The specific activities that a person finds challenging to perform vary across individuals. For some people, communication difficulties only happen during specific activities, for example, talking on the telephone or talking before large groups. For most others, however, communication difficulties occur across a number of activities at home, school, or work. Some people may limit their participation in certain activities. Such “participation restrictions” often occur because the person is concerned about how others might react to disfluent speech. Other people may try to hide their disfluent speech from others by rearranging the words in their sentence (circumlocution), pretending to forget what they wanted to say, or declining to speak. Other people may find that they are excluded from participating in certain activities because of stuttering. Clearly, the impact of stuttering on daily life can be affected by how the person and others react to the disorder.
What are signs and symptoms of stuttering?
Stuttered speech often includes repetitions of words or parts of words, as well as prolongations of speech sounds. These disfluencies occur more often in persons who stutter than they do in the general population. Some people who stutter appear very tense or “out of breath” when talking. Speech may become completely stopped or blocked. Blocked is when the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming. After some effort, the person may complete the word. Interjections such as “um” or “like” can occur, as well, particularly when they contain repeated (“u- um- um”) or prolonged (“uuuum”) speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to “get stuck on.”
Some examples of stuttering include:
- “W- W- W- Where are you going?” (Part-word repetition: The person is having difficulty moving from the “w” in “where” to the remaining sounds in the word. On the fourth attempt, he successfully completes the word.)
- “SSSS ave me a seat.” (Sound prolongation: The person is having difficulty moving from the “s” in “save” to the remaining sounds in the word. He continues to say the “s” sound until he is able to complete the word.)
- “I’ll meet you – um um you know like – around six o’clock.” (A series of interjections: The person expects to have difficulty smoothly joining the word “you” with the word “around.” In response to the anticipated difficulty, he produces several interjections until he is able to say the word “around” smoothly.)
What treatments are available for stuttering?
Most treatment programs for people who stutter are “behavioral.” They are designed to teach the person specific skills or behaviors that lead to improved oral communication. For instance, many SLPs teach people who stutter to control and/or monitor the rate at which they speak. In addition, people may learn to start saying words in a slightly slower and less physically tense manner. They may also learn to control or monitor their breathing. When learning to control speech rate, people often begin by practicing smooth, fluent speech at rates that are much slower than typical speech, using short phrases and sentences. Over time, people learn to produce smooth speech at faster rates, in longer sentences, and in more challenging situations until speech sounds both fluent and natural. “Follow-up” or “maintenance” sessions are often necessary after completion of formal intervention to prevent relapse.
What causes stuttering?
The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. Recent studies suggest that genetics plays a role in the disorder. It is thought that many, if not most, individuals who stutter inherit traits that put them at risk to develop stuttering. The exact nature of these traits is presently unclear. Whatever the traits are, they obviously impair the individual’s ability to string together the various muscle movements that are necessary to produce sentences fluently.
Not everyone who is predisposed to stutter will develop the disorder. For many, certain life events are thought to “trigger” fluency difficulty. One of the triggers for developmental stuttering may be the development of grammar skills. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, children learn many of the grammatical rules of language. These rules allow children to change immature messages (“Mommy candy”) into longer sentences that require coordination to produce fluently (“Mommy put the candy in my backpack”). A child who is predisposed to stutter may have no difficulty speaking fluently when sentences are only one or two words long. However, when the child starts trying to produce longer, more complex sentences, he or she may find himself or herself not quite up to the challenge-and disfluent speech results.
After stuttering has started, other factors may cause more disfluencies. For example, a child who is easily frustrated may be more likely to tighten or tense speech muscles when disfluencies occur. Such tension may increase how long a disfluency lasts. Listeners’ responses to stuttering (e.g., teasing) can aggravate fluency difficulties as well. People who stutter vary widely in how they react to the disfluencies in their speech. Some appear to be minimally concerned. Others-especially those who have encountered unfavorable reactions from listeners-may develop emotional responses to stuttering that hinder speech production further. Examples of these emotions include shame, embarrassment, and anxiety.
What can I do to communicate better with people who stutter?
Often, people are unsure about how to respond when talking to people who stutter. This uncertainty can cause listeners to do things like look away during moments of stuttering, interrupt the person, fill in words, or simply not talk to people who stutter. None of these reactions is particularly helpful, though. In general, people who stutter want to be treated just like anybody else. They are very aware that their speech is different and that it takes them longer to say things. Unfortunately, though, this sometimes leads the person to feel pressure to speak quickly. Under such conditions, people who stutter often have even more difficultly saying what they want to say in a smooth, timely manner. Therefore, listeners who appear impatient or annoyed may actually make it harder for people who stutter to speak.
When talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases the person’s sense of time pressure. Also, suggestions like “slow down,” “relax,” or “take a deep breath” can make the person feel even more uncomfortable because these comments suggest that stuttering should be simple to overcome, but it’s not!
Of course, different people who stutter will have different ways of handling their speaking difficulties. Some will be comfortable talking about it with you, while others will not. In general, however, it can be quite helpful to simply ask the person what would be the most helpful way to respond to his or her stuttering. You might say something like, “I noticed that you stutter. Can you tell me how you prefer for people to respond when you stutter?” Often, people will appreciate your interest. You certainly don’t want to talk down to them or treat them differently just because they stutter. However, you can still try to find a matter-of-fact, supportive way to let them know that you are interested in what they are saying, rather than how they’re saying it. This can go a long way toward reducing awkwardness, uncertainty, or tension in the situation and make it easier for both parties to communicate effectively.
Worksheet – Savant Syndrome
Q1. What are some of your thoughts about stuttering, and why?
Q2. Have you met anyone in your life that stutters? What was your opinion of him/ her? How has your thought of that person changed now that you have a deeper understanding of stuttering?
Q3. What are some of the potential problems that a stuttering individual mayhave in our society? Please list as many as you can think of.
Q1. What are the five vocabulary words that you would like to learn from the reading and/ or the videos? Please write them down on your vocabulary cards, along with their definitions, and your own original sentences using those words. Feel free to do more than five if you want to!
* As an ending remark for this particular topic regarding stuttering, I would like to mention that I personally had experience of stuttering when I was a child and,as such, I thought I would like to share some thoughts. While it might be quite difficult for people who have never stuttered to imagine what stuttering feels like, stuttering, when it occurs, feels as if your throat is being clenched so hard that absolutely no sound would come out; the words you are trying to say are just on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t get them out. As you have already read in the reading, a lot of people would suggest that the stuttering individual “slow down” and “think through what he/ she wants to say before saying it”. This kind of advices, if anything, only serves to make the person’s stuttering worse, because this kind of advices makes the individual more aware of his/ her stuttering, which then puts more stress on the individual, thereby causing more stuttering. People who stutter, just like anyone else, would like to be treated normally. Therefore, If you already know someone who stutters, or ever have a chance speaking with a stuttering individual, please do not try to instruct the person on how to speak or act out of the ordinary. Allow the person to finish what he/ she has to say, and your kindness will be appreciated : )!