Updated: May 31, 2020
Stuttering is a term to describe a disruption in the flow of speech. Disfluencies are present in everyone's speech. However, in people who stutter, they often have disfluencies on a higher percentage of words. They may stutter consistently on the same word or phrase every time, or the stuttering may be completely random. Stuttering may occur more often in high pressure situations. An individual may repeat sounds or words, they may prolong sounds, and they may use interjections such as "um" or "like" quite frequently in their speech. They may experience blocks, where their mouth is open and unable to produce sound. People who stutter may have secondary behaviors such as eye blinks, twitches, or movements that accompany the stutter. Understanding stuttering is a critical component of any speech therapy program.
Myth #1: Stuttering is caused by anxiety.
People who stutter may develop a fear of speaking. They may develop avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding saying exactly what they want to say because they are afraid of stuttering on a particular word or phrase. High pressure situations may exasperate the stutter. When we no longer fear our stuttering, we may in turn end up stuttering less. The cause of stuttering is still unknown. Genetic factors may play a role. For example, if the person who stutters has a family member with a history of stuttering, this may suggest stuttering could persist past childhood.
Additionally, there has been research which suggests a strong relationship between the basal ganglia and stuttering, which is responsible for controlling the rhythm and timing of speech. Have you ever noticed that people who stutter become fluent when speaking to the pace of a metronome or when singing?
Myth #2: There is a cure for stuttering.
There is no cure for stuttering. Stuttering is not a "problem" that needs to be "fixed." Stuttering is only a concern if the individual does not say what they want to say. If the individual is avoiding words or social situations because of their stutter, this is the most significant concern. A speech therapist can help a person who stutters increase their speech fluency, and improve their confidence and communication skills.
Myth #3: I can help people who stutter by filling in their sentences.
You can help people who stutter by being an active listener. Here are some tips for helping people who stutter feel heard:
Refrain from interrupting or filling in their sentences.
Make eye contact and turn your body towards the speaker.
Refrain from reacting to their stuttering in a negative way. Be present in the conversation, and focus on what the individual is trying to say.
Try to refrain from comments such as "slow down, "relax," or "take a breath."
Wait patiently until the person is finished speaking. Allow them time to say what they want to say.
If a family member or good friend stutters, suggest going to a group event or stuttering conference such as the National Stuttering Association's annual conference to show your support and increase your understanding of stuttering.
Fun Fact: There are many successful people who stutter such as Joe Biden, James Earl Jones, Carly Simon, Emily Blunt, Hugh Grant, Samuel Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Marilyn Monroe, and more. Stuttering does not define you, and it does not prevent you from living a fulfilling or successful life. If you or a loved on has concerns about your ability to live vocally with your stutter, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.