What is Stuttering?

By Marissa Siegel, owner and Speech-Language Pathologist at Rising Star Speech and Language Services

Do you know someone who stutters? Apart from the stereotypes we typically see and hear about, what is it really? Read on to find out more about stuttering and ways to support people who stutter.

Here’s what stuttering is NOT:

Stuttering isn’t something that happens when someone speaking is flustered. It’s also not something that impacts or is impacted by someone’s intelligence.  Importantly, nervousness or anxiety does not cause stuttering. However, for people who stutter, these may intensify their stuttering symptoms. Non-stutterers who speak fluently sometimes use normal disfluencies such as interjections (uh, um, ya know), revisions (I’m, well you, I can tell that is true), repetitions of single words within a phrase or sentence (hand that to to me?). However, it often does not impact their speech to a significant degree and they are able to keep with their typical pace and naturalness of speech.

Here’s what stuttering IS: 

Stuttering, or dysfluency, is described as the fluency breaks of people who stutter. The fluency breaks can include things such as repetitions of syllables (el-el-elephants), parts of words (car-ar), whole words (phone phone), or phrases (how are you, how are you, how are you?), prolongations of a sound (ssssssspill), gaps (silent pauses) (here….you go), and/or blocks (…Push). Secondary behaviors and “naturalness” of speech are also factors that help people think about fluency. Secondary behaviors are things like tapping a toe to help get a sound out. There is a whole community of people who stutter. You probably even recognize some successful, famous people who stutter such as Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Sophie Gustafson, Joe Biden, Bob Love, Ed Sheeren, and Emily Blunt.

How you can support a person who stutters:

There are many ways to support people who stutter. Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s sentences. Nobody likes to be interrupted. Telling someone to slow down or relax to avoid stuttering is usually not helpful. When possible, do not place a time constraint upon them. If someone tells you about their stutter, listen patiently and respectfully. If they are comfortable, ask what they would like you to do to support them when they start to stutter.

According to the National Stuttering Association, you can be an ally to people who stutter by

1) demonstrating interest and asking open ended questions such as “how can I support you?”

2) respecting that each person who stutters has unique preferences and perspectives regarding their stuttering

3) taking responsibility for participating in your own education about stuttering

4) modeling how people unfamiliar with stuttering should respond to stuttering

5) be willing to step into discomfort to support people who stutter.

If you want to know more about what stuttering, and ways to support people who stutter, check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) webpage. There are many resources for people who stutter. As with almost all communication disorders, high quality early intervention has been shown to be beneficial. If you are concerned that your child is struggling with stuttering, reach out to a speech-language pathologist (SLP). A licensed SLP can diagnose and treat stuttering.

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