What is Stuttering?

Stuttering is a communication disorder involving disruptions, or “disfluencies,” in a person’s speech. The word “stuttering” can be used to refer either to the specific speech disfluencies that are commonly produced by people who stutter or to the overall communication difficulty that people who stutter may experience.

In addition to producing disfluencies, people who stutter often experience physical tension and struggle in their speech muscles, as well as embarrassment, anxiety, and fear about speaking. Together, these symptoms can make it very difficult for people who stutter to speak, and this makes it difficult for them to communicate effectively with others. There are as many different patterns of stuttering as there are people who stutter, and many different degrees of stuttering, from mild to severe.

How common is stuttering?

It has been estimated that about one percent of the general population stutters. This would amount to almost three million stutterers in the United States alone. Stuttering is about three or four times more common in males than females.

What causes stuttering?

The precise causes of stuttering are still unknown, but most researchers now consider stuttering to be a neurological condition that interferes with the production of speech. In some people, the tendency to stutter may be inherited. Although the interference with speech is sometimes triggered by emotional or situational factors, stuttering is basically neurological and physiological – not psychological – in nature. In all other respects, persons who stutter are perfectly normal.

The most common type of stuttering (sometimes called developmental stuttering) usually develops of its own accord in childhood, most often between ages two and eight (although in rare cases it may begin much later). Roughly 4 to 5 percent of people experience stuttering at some time during their childhood. While the majority become fluent by the time they reach adulthood, stuttering may continue to be a chronic, persistent problem for other stutterers.

Stuttering is variable

The severity of stuttering varies widely among individuals. It may also vary in the same individual from day to day and depending on the speaking situation. Saying one’s name and speaking to authority figures may be particularly difficult. For some individuals, fatigue, stress, and time pressure can increase their tendency to stutter. When stutterers feel compelled to hide their stuttering, it generally becomes worse.

Patterns of stuttering behavior also vary. Some individuals may experience repetitions (D-d-d-dog), prolongations (Mmmmmmilk), or blocks (an absence of sound), or can experience some combination of these markers.  Some who stutter will also try to avoid stuttering by pausing before words, substituting words, and interjecting phrases such as “you know,” “well actually,” “um,” etc., whenever they anticipate a moment of stuttering. As a result, the person may create the false impression of being hesitant, uncertain, or confused.

A job interview may be the single most difficult speaking situation a stutterer will ever encounter. Stuttering is likely to be at its worst. Therefore, the degree of stuttering at the interview should not be used to predict how the person will actually speak on the job.

Can stuttering be cured?

Despite scientific breakthroughs in our knowledge about stuttering, there is still no reliable, research-backed “cure” that works consistently, over time, and for all people who stutter.

Many individuals benefit from various forms of speech therapy and from support groups like the National Stuttering Association. Meanwhile, researchers are experimenting with electronic devices, pharmaceuticals, and other still-unproven techniques and alternative treatments. However, it is unrealistic to expect that any treatment will make stuttering completely disappear. Despite common myths , there is no therapy, device, or drug that is effective all the time or for all people who stutter. Methods that appear to benefit some individuals may not work for others, and relapses are common. Controlling stuttering is a long-term project that begins with acceptance of one’s stuttering and which requires considerable patience and understanding.

What Help Is Available?

Although there is no simple cure for stuttering, people who stutter can learn to speak more easily, feel better about themselves and their speaking ability, and communicate more effectively.

Stuttering typically starts between the ages of 2½ and 5. Early intervention is the most effective way to help children overcome their speaking difficulties. Therefore, it is important for parents and pediatricians to seek an evaluation by a qualified speech-language pathologist as soon as they become concerned about a child’s stuttering.

School-age children, adolescents and adults can also benefit from treatment. For these individuals, treatment is designed to help them learn to manage their stuttering so it is less disruptive to their communication, increase their speech fluency as appropriate, and improve their self-esteem and their self-confidence so they can communicate more freely and effectively.

Local Family, Teen, and Adult NSA Chapters are another way to build self-confidence, practice speaking in a safe environment, and explore new ways to cope with stuttering.  Find the NSA Chapter nearest you in our Local Chapter Directory.