Ed Sheeran, Tiger Woods, Nicole Kidman, Kendrick Lamar, Joe Biden, Samuel L. Jackson, Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis, Marylyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and King George IV. What do all these individuals have in common? Aside from being famous, they are all individuals who stutter! About 1 percent or 70 million people in the world stutter.
What is a Stutter?
A stutter is a communication disorder that interrupts the flow of speech. It is characterized by prolongations (mmmmore please), blocks (stoppage of sounds), and repetitions. The repetitions can be whole-word repetitions (what what what do you want) or part word repetitions (w w w what do you want). Some individuals who stutter may have increased tension in their face and secondary characteristics, which are facial and body movements that may happen during moments of stuttering. The characteristics mentioned above are the visible characteristics associated with stuttering; however, there is often much more to a stutter. Stuttering is similar to an iceberg, where only a fraction is visible from the surface. Yet, if we were to look deeper, we would notice so much more to the iceberg. For stuttering, the hidden character is a person’s emotional response to their stutter. It is common for people who stutter to be anxious, frustrated, or embarrassed about their stutter, which may lead to avoidance behaviors such as not speaking up in class or avoiding making phone calls. These avoidance behaviors may lead to feelings of isolation.
To help us understand this Iceberg model and the true emotional impact a stutter may have on a person, my professor in graduate school assigned an assignment where we were asked to stutter while out in the community. While at a farmers market, I asked a florist, “C c c c can I see the flowers?” I quickly noticed the look of discomfort on the florist’s face as she nervously helped me with my flower selection. I immediately felt a wave of emotions run over me, and I felt judged. In no way does this experience compare to what it feels like for a person who stutters, but it gave me a tiny, tiny bit of insight into the emotional impact of a stutter and the fear of judgment that may develop. I made it my goal as a speech therapist to provide holistic speech therapy to individuals who stutter by offering strategies used to promote fluency and address their emotional response to their stutter. I strive to empower individuals who stutter to feel confident in their speaking abilities at all times, regardless of their fluency.
What Causes a Stutter?
Now that we are familiar with the characteristics of stuttering and the emotional impact it may have on a person. What causes a stutter? Stuttering is multifactorial, meaning there is not one specific cause of stuttering. Research has shown stuttering may be genetic; a family history of stuttering increases the possibility of stuttering. It is neurophysiological; people who stutter may process speech and language slightly differently than individuals who do not stutter. About five percent of children stutter, and one percent continue to stutter into adulthood. Developmental stuttering is common in young children as their language develops; however, it may require treatment if it lasts longer than six months. Neurogenic stuttering may occur following a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Psychogenic stuttering may occur following a traumatic event, however, this type of stuttering is rare. There are many myths out there about stuttering, such as being nervous or anxious causes a stutter. That is not true; nervousness or anxiety does not cause a stutter but can exacerbate disfluencies. Similarly, fast-paced talking and time pressure may increase the moments of stuttering.
What is the Difference Between Typical Disfluencies in Speech and Stuttering?
We all have moments of disfluent speech at times, where we throw in an interjection like “umm” or we might stop mid-sentence and revise ourselves. But what is the difference between typical disfluencies and stuttering? With typical disfluencies, you may notice whole-word repetitions, interjections, (e.g., umm, so, yeahhh), or revisions. Regarding behaviors, you will not see physical tension or secondary behaviors common with stuttering, no adverse reactions to your disfluencies, and no family history of stuttering.
In contrast, a person—who presents with dysfluencies associated with a stutter—will experience prolongations, blocks, and repetitions. An individual with a stutter may experience physical tension during moments of stuttering which may lead to avoidance behaviors during social interactions, such as talking on the phone or ordering food through a drive-through. A person who stutters may also have a family history
When is it Time to See a Speech Therapist?
Speech therapists can assess and treat a stutter for children, adolescents, and adults who stutter. It may be time to see a therapist if the stuttering has lasted more than six months, tension during moments of stuttering is observed, avoidance behaviors or negative emotions associated with the stutter, and if there is a family history of stuttering.
At LKS and Associates, we provide a comprehensive fluency evaluation consisting of a detailed parent or client interview followed by a formal and informal assessment of the stutter. The speech therapist will determine stuttering severity and characteristics of the stutter and assess other behaviors associated with the stutter, such as physical tension, secondary characteristics, adverse reactions, or avoidance behaviors related to the stutter. The evaluation results will assist with developing a treatment plan that is specific to the client and their needs.
For treatment, we provide an individualized and holistic approach when providing speech therapy for a stutter. Treatment focuses on providing strategies to facilitate fluency and targeting the emotional response that is commonly associated with stuttering. The goal of speech therapy is for the individual who stutters to say what they want to say when they want to say it. We want our clients to leave speech therapy feeling empowered by their voice!
Seven Easy Strategies from the Stuttering Foundation
There are seven easy strategies from the Stuttering Foundation that parents and caregivers can implement at home to support children who stutter.
Helpful links for parents of a child or young adult who stutters: