What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a communication disorder 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).
People also can experience some combination of these sounds. Stuttering can vary significantly over time: Sometimes, people will have periods in which the stuttering appears to go away, only to have it return. This variability is normal.
It’s estimated that about 1% of the world’s population stutters, although an estimated 5% of children go through a period of stuttering. Stuttering is more common among males than females. In adults, the male-to-female ratio is about 4 to 1; in children, it is closer to 2 to 1.
The severity of stuttering varies widely among individuals. When people stutter, they feel like they have lost control of their speech mechanism. This sensation of loss of control can be disconcerting and uncomfortable, and it can lead to embarrassment, anxiety about speaking, and a fear of stuttering again.
People who stutter often try to avoid stuttering, perhaps by trying to speak quickly, by forcing through moments of stuttering, or by not speaking at all when they fear that they might stutter. These behaviors can actually increase the likelihood that more stuttering will result, and they lead to a greater impact of stuttering on the person’s life.
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, people 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 five. As many as 80% of young children who begin to stutter ultimately will stop stuttering. Those who continue to stutter into the school-age years are likely to also continue stuttering in some fashion throughout their lives.
Because fluent speakers occasionally become more disfluent when they are nervous or under stress, some people assume that people who stutter do so for the same reason. While people who stutter may be nervous because they stutter, nervousness is not the cause.
Is There a Cure for Stuttering?
There is no reliable, research-backed “cure” that works consistently, over time, and for all people who stutter. Despite common myths, there is no therapy, device, or drug that is effective all the time or for everyone who stutters. Methods that appear to benefit some individuals may not work for others, and relapses are common. In fact, it’s unrealistic to expect that any treatment will make stuttering completely disappear.
Controlling stuttering is a long-term project that begins with acceptance of one’s stuttering and requires considerable patience and understanding. 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.
A stutter is not a “weakness” or “a defect.” Nor is it something people need to “get rid of.” There shouldn’t be shame in having a stutter. People who stutter are no less intelligent or capable than people who do not stutter. The stuttering community has its share of scientists, writers, and college professors. People who stutter have achieved success in every profession imaginable.
Who Should I Consult if I Suspect That My Child Stutters?
Stuttering can be confusing for children, their siblings, and their parents. When you are talking with someone who is having trouble producing sounds or words smoothly, he or she may be stuttering. Stuttering can cause listeners to feel uncertain or anxious about how to respond. Avoid any temptation to interrupt them or complete their thoughts. People who stutter have valuable things to say – just listen!
If you suspect your child stutters, know that they—and you—are not alone. The National Stuttering Association (NSA) fosters a welcoming community of people of all ages that accepts stuttering and promotes inclusion and connectedness. You can visit the NSA to learn more about stuttering and where to find support and resources:
- Myths about stuttering,
- Online community of people who stutter and those who support them,
- Local support groups,
- Help finding a speech therapist,
- Upcoming events, and
- Virtual workshops.