- Stuttering is a difference in speech pattern involving disruptions, or “disfluencies,” in a person’s speech.
- People who stutter may experience repetitions (D-d-d-dog), prolongations (Mmmmmmilk), or blocks (an absence of sound), or can experience some combination of these sounds.
- The severity of stuttering varies widely among individuals.
- It’s estimated about one percent of the adult population stutters, which equates to almost three million people who stutter in the United States.
- Stuttering is about three or four times more common in males than females.
- There is no reliable, research-backed “cure” that works consistently, over time, and for all people who stutter.
- 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.
What Is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a difference in speech pattern involving disruptions, or “disfluencies,” in a person’s speech. The word “stuttering” can be used to refer either to the specific speech disfluencies 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.
What Causes Stuttering?
The precise causes of stuttering are still unknown, but most researchers now consider stuttering to involve differences in brain activity that interfere 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.
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.
It’s 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. Managing stuttering is a long-term project that begins with acceptance of one’s stuttering and requires considerable patience and understanding.
How Common Is Stuttering?
It has been estimated that about one percent of the adult population stutters. This would amount to almost three million people who stutter in the United States alone. Stuttering is about three or four times more common in males than females.
Stuttering Is Variable
The severity of stuttering varies widely among people. 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 people, fatigue, stress, and time pressure can increase their tendency to stutter. When people who stutter feel compelled to hide their stuttering, it generally becomes worse.
Patterns of stuttering behavior also vary. People who stutter may experience repetitions (D-d-d-dog), prolongations (Mmmmmmilk), or blocks (an absence of sound), or can experience some combination of these sounds. 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 person who stutters 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.
What Help Is Available?
Fluency should not be the primary objective; effective communication should be the goal.
Considering that stuttering typically commences between the ages of 2 and 5, beginning early intervention is the most effective strategy to support children in managing their speech difficulties. Thus, it’s essential for parents and pediatricians to promptly request an evaluation from a qualified speech-language pathologist if they observe a child struggling with stuttering.
Children of school age, adolescents, and adults can also gain advantages from seeking treatment. Treatment should be viewed as a way to boost self-esteem, enhance self-confidence, while communicating effectively, and doing so even if you continue to stutter.
Support Groups for People Who Stutter
The National Stuttering Association provides an extensive network of support groups for adults, kids, families, and teens across the United States. During these monthly meetings, conversation flows freely without fear or embarrassment and no one feels alone. It’s 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.
Thank you to Angela Medina, PhD, CCC-SLP and Courtney Margulis, MA, CCC-SLP for their expert input!