Did I stutter...? The Perspective of a Speech-Language Pathologist
Updated: May 14
There are SOOOOO many misconceptions about stuttering and the individuals who have a stutter. As a speech-language pathologist, I have heard several far-fetched myths. For instance, some are under the impression that people who stutter: (1) are less intelligent than their peers; (2) know what they want to say but are “just being silly;” (3) must have gone through an emotional trauma; (4) that if one holds their breath long enough, one's stutter will disappear. Others believe stuttering: (1) is caused by bad parenting; (2) is a habit that can easily be broken when they want to. TERRIBLE, right? The most common misconception people have is that there is a cure for stuttering. I'm here to tell you that all of the above is simply NOT TRUE! Let's do away with these misconceptions and better understand what stuttering is, how it may come about and how it can be treated. Let’s dive into the facts …
Stuttering takes many forms and is measured by various deficiencies in one’s speech. It’s important to know that all speakers produce disfluent speech, which are considered typical disfluencies. For example, (1) hesitations, such as a silent pause, (2) interjections or word fillers (i.e., uh, um,like), (3) whole-word repetitions (i.e.,“ But -but I don’t want to go”) and (4) phrase repetitions or revisions (i.e., “ This is a - this is a problem”). When an individual uses a high number of typical disfluencies then it is no longer perceived as typical. Whereas, less typical disfluencies or instances of stuttering include (1) part-word or sound/syllable repetitions (i.e., “Look at the b-b-b-ba-ba-ba-by”) , (2) prolongations (i.e., “ Ssssssss snails are slimy”, and (3) blocks (i.e., inaudible or silent fixations or inability to initiate sounds).
Let’s define it all:
Fluency: smooth and effortless speech; the forward flow of speech without interruptions.
Disfluency/Stuttering: Behaviors that interfere with the forward flow or smoothness of speech.
Cluttering: When speech is produced at a rapid or irregular rate and coincides with excessive disfluencies.
Secondary effects/behaviors: The reactions that occur in addition to the stutter. For example: excessive eye blinks, head jerks, foot or leg shaking, facial grimaces, tension in the neck and/or chest.
Cause/Etiology: There is no single cause of stuttering; rather, there are many different factors that contribute to the development of stuttering including, genetic inheritance, language abilities, motor ability to move the mouth when speaking, individual's temperament, reactions of close others in their environment, traumatic brain injury and neurological impairments (i.e. cerebral palsy).
Treatment: There is no "cure" for stuttering. Treatment primarily focuses on training and working with caregivers to develop techniques to help the child cope with and get beyond his or her stuttering. Children are not diagnosed as an individual who stutters unless the symptoms persist after age 5-6 years, as children are still developing language and their ability to form sentences at that age. Seek help from a speech-language pathologist if symptoms persist for 6-months or more and/or beyond 6 years old. 80% of preschoolers who stutter will spontaneously recover. Children who stutter early are more likely to spontaneously recover.
When to seek help
Consult with a speech-language pathologist if:
He/she is experiencing frequent interruptions in his/her speech
He/she experiences tension, facial grimaces, or struggle behaviors while talking
He/she avoids certain sounds/words, or situations in which he/she has to talk
Signs persist for longer than 6 months and/or past 5 years old
What caregivers can do:
Speak in an unhurried way, pausing frequently.
Be mindful of your body language and facial expressions. Simply convey that you're listening and not judging.
Give your undivided attention to the speaker.
Encourage all family members/friends to allow turn taking during conversations. Individuals who stutter do not like to be cut off or have their sentences finished for them. This is likely a person who stutters' #1 pet-peeve.
Convey that you accept them the way they are.
Every person who stutters will not exhibit the same disfluencies and behaviours. When talking to someone who stutters, be engaged, compassionate and patient. Know that they are doing their best. Many of us, including myself, exhibit small signs of stuttering. Whether it's getting tripped up on words or saying "um" and "ah" several times before getting the words out. We are all human. This may happen once in a blue moon for the average fluent speaker; but for people who stutter, it occurs frequently; interfering with school, work, family and social life. Now that we broke through the many misconceptions, let's do our best to be patient and supportive with individuals who stutter.