Understanding Stuttering and the Humans Living With It

Written by: Admin / Speech / October, 2017

Many people have encountered someone who stutters, but not everyone knows a lot about stuttering. It's important to inform yourself about what stuttering entails so that you can be as supportive as possible. This blog post will address what stuttering is and what causes it, signs and symptoms of stuttering, diagnoses, treatment, and the role of a speech-language pathologist (SLP). This post will also outline how best to communicate with someone who stutters. Read on. 



What is stuttering and what causes it?

What is a stutter and what causes stuttering?
What are some of the signs and symptoms of stuttering?
What is the process of diagnosing a stutter?
How is stuttering treated?
What is the role of speech therapy or the speech therapist?
How can I support someone who stutters?
How common is stuttering?

Stuttering often begins during childhood and in certain cases, lasts into adulthood. Stuttering affects the fluency of speech and can be defined as an “interference” in the process of producing speech sounds, also called a “disfluency”. Almost everyone has minor disfluencies now and then, for example saying “um” while trying to express a thought, but if an individual is producing disfluencies frequently (within most sentences), then this can affect one’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

For most people who stutter, at least some of their daily activities are impacted, such as speaking on the telephone or in front of large groups. The specific challenges will vary from person to person. Whether these challenges are occurring during one’s personal, academic, or professional life, communication difficulties may prompt the individual to limit their participation in certain activities.


What are some of the signs and symptoms of suttering?

Characteristics of people who stutter often include: the repetition of words or parts of words, seeming out of breath, speech that gets completely stopped or blocked, and frequent disfluencies such as “uh” or “like”. People who stutter often prolong sounds in order to delay the rest of the sentence when feeling stuck.

A stutter can manifest in different ways. For example, “W-W-W What time is it?”

In this example, part of the word is being repeated and it takes several attempts to successfully complete the word “what”.

Another example is, “What day are you - uh uh like - free for dinner?”

This particular sentence displays several interjections. This can be considered a form of stalling because of an individual’s difficulty saying the words “you” and “free” smoothly one after another.


What is the process of diagnosing a stutter?

Stuttering can affect more than just the audible speech and these characteristics can manifest in different ways. Because of this, the expertise of a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) is integral to a proper diagnosis.             

SLPs will conduct an evaluation, in which they will observe the frequency and types of disfluencies, while cross referencing with other qualities such rate of speech and language skills. There are additional questionnaires and observations that are used to asses the severity of the stutter.

Other factors that might prove to be relevant during a diagnosis include:

  • The existence of other speech or language challenges

  • A family history of stuttering

  • The length of time that a stutter has been present

  • The person's feelings about their stuttering                 

These factors are all considered in order to design a specific treatment plan that will help the individual to communicate more clearly, fluently, and effectively while participating more in daily activities.

How is a stutter treated, how effective are these treatments

Most treatment plans are considered to be behavioural, meaning the individual is practising particular behaviours or skills that eventually result in improved oral communication. SLPs often suggest the individual adjust the speed and rate at which they are speaking. Someone might need to first learn to speak more slowly and in shorter sentences in order to smooth their speech, increasing the speed and length of sentence over time, achieving natural, fluent speech.

Follow-up appointments are often recommended in order to avoid any regression.

What is the role of a speech therapist?

A speech therapist (or speech-language pathologist) will work to - not necessarily eliminate, but to - help minimize frequency and duration of disfluencies AND/OR to help you feel better about stuttering and develop a sense of acceptance. As the individual becomes more comfortable with their fluency in their sessions, they will be prompted to practise their new skills in real life situations.

People who stutter can also find support through stuttering support groups, which create a community of people who are dealing with similar stresses, possibly working towards similar goals. These groups can become a safe space to practise skills learned in speech therapy sessions.


How can I communicate best with someone who stutters?

Generally, people who stutter want to be treated like anyone else. Looking away, interrupting, or simply ignoring the person are not positive ways to handle the situation. People who stutter are aware that it takes them longer to communicate their thoughts. However, when feeling judged by their conversation partner or by the social situation, there is added pressure and anxiety.

It is very important not to be impatient. When conversing with people who stutter, give them time to say what they want to say. Additionally, don’t belittle their difficulty by making overly simple suggestions like telling them just to relax. Overcoming a stutter is a personal and challenging process, so it’s important not to make them feel as though it should be easy.


How common is stuttering?

In many cases, a stutter will first appear as early as two-and-a-half years old. Children are often unaware and unbothered by their stutter. With age though, if the stutter persists, people become increasingly more aware and more bothered by their difficulties. This is particularly because of the way others react to their speech.

Of course, every case is different. There is not conclusive evidence to explain why some individuals overcome their stutter during childhood, while others have their stutter persist into adulthood.


At Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy, our experienced team of speech-language pathologists supports teens and adults exclusively. This is not the speech therapy you remember. We've carefully designed our clinic to work for you: our hours, our office, our location, and our mindset.  We offer traditional stuttering therapies and really exciting modern approaches to stuttering treatment that focus on the psychological effects of stuttering on the person.  

If someone you loves is an adult who stutters, we thank you for taking the time to read this article and becoming informed on stuttering and understanding someone who stutters.