We all stutter from time to time, but some people struggle with speech impediments on a daily basis. It’s a problem that often begins in childhood and, for many people, leaves a lasting mark on their confidence, particularly in social situations.
There is no universal condition for stuttering and there is no universal cure. Just as some people will only stutter in certain situations — such as when speaking in public or in front of people who make them nervous — the forms of therapy currently available will help some people, but not others. If you or someone you know struggles with occasional or consistent stuttering, you may be wondering what you need to learn about this unique condition. Here are some quick facts to know about stuttering…
Given how widespread issues with stuttering are, it’s somewhat surprising that researchers don’t yet know what causes the problem. Some experts believe it’s strongly tied to genetics, meaning that if one’s parents or grandparents struggled with a stutter, then their children or grandchildren may have similar speech issues.
Of course, a stutter can also be related to an individual’s own experience. Childhood trauma, particularly related to speech, can result in a person struggling with a stutter later in life. A stutter can also emerge if an individual has anxiety, a condition that can make speaking to others, and especially strangers, particularly stressful and difficult.
2. Symptoms of Stuttering
People who stutter have trouble forming complete words as they speak. In many cases, this results in them repeating parts of words or prolonging certain sounds of speech. For the speaker, it can be a struggle to get the words out, to the point where they may appear exhausted or out of breath just attempting to complete a sentence.
Individuals with more extreme cases of stuttering may actually stop speaking or have difficulty beginning to speak in the first place. In minor cases, individuals may be able to identify problematic words — such as those that start or end with a certain sound — and may intentionally avoid integrating those into their speech.
Given its prevalence — after all, everyone stutters from time to time — it’s generally easy to identify if someone is struggling with stuttering. However, it’s far more difficult to determine a) what is causing the stutter, and b) if there is a pattern to the stuttering. That can make finding an effective strategy for speech therapy particularly difficult.
In serious cases of stuttering, the patient will be referred to a certified speech-language pathologist, who can carry out an evaluation to determine the extent of the problem. This evaluation will focus on a variety of areas, from an individual’s rate of speaking to their ability to pronounce certain words. In time, this therapy can help an individual struggling with stuttering find a strategy for limiting the problem and gaining confidence when finding themselves in social situations.
4. Early Treatment
Although it’s never impossible for a certified speech pathologist to work with and help someone struggling with stuttering, ideally this relationship between patient and practitioner begins early in life, such as when the problem first emerges. Put simply, the earlier a problem with stuttering is identified and treated, the better the chances are of helping the individual manage or even overcome it.
Children identified as having a potential issue with speech, and specifically stuttering, will undergo an evaluation to determine if the problem is minor or even temporary, or if it’s likely to continue if treatment isn’t used. Because every case is different, there’s no set routine for treating childhood stuttering.
5. Behavioral Treatment
Whether the patient is young, middle age, or older, most treatment programs for stuttering tend to focus on changing the behavior of the individual. The goal, as you might expect, is to help the patient learn strategies that will ultimately help them improve their performance in oral communication situations.
One strategy that certified speech language experts use is to help patients with stuttering issues control the rate at which they speak. By slowing things down, the individual can plan out the delivery of each word, giving them the chance to correct any stutter before it becomes audible. Monitoring and controlling breathing is another strategy that can effectively help patients overcome issues with stuttering.
Patience is of critical importance for everyone involved in speech therapy focused on helping an individual with a stutter. However, it’s also an important part of any conversation between someone with a stutter and someone else without that problem.
For the individual with a stutter, they should focus on calmly and steadily communicating their words. Rather than get nervous and deliver their words quickly, as many people with a stutter tend to do, they should focus on slowly delivering their message. Patience is also important for those on the other side of a conversation — rather than look away or become agitated when someone stutters, remain quiet and let the person complete their point. It can go a long way towards helping someone with a stutter gain the confidence they need to manage their speech impediment.