What is a Stuttering (Dysfluency) disorder?

Simply stated, stuttering is a disorder that is characterized by an abnormal disruption in the flow of speech. In professional terms, stuttering is also referred to as “dysfluency”. It typically begins in childhood and may be short-term or may last a lifetime. It typically starts between the ages of 2-5 years, and is much more common in boys. Stuttering also tends to run in families. Although the cause is not completely known, recent research has indicated a genetic component to the cause. Certain stressful situations/interactions can exacerbate stuttering. However, it is very important to understand that stuttering is NOT a psychological or anxiety disorder. People don’t stutter because they are nervous – they are nervous because they stutter. The severity of stuttering may vary significantly from day to day, week to week, or in different situations. Since some types of disruptions in the flow of speech are considered normal, it is important to have a speech-language pathologist conduct a thorough evaluation to determine the presence/absence of a stuttering disorder, and make recommendations based on the results of the evaluation.

What to watch out for:

  • Family history of stuttering (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)
  • Stuttering has lasted six months or longer
  • Others (family members, friends, teachers) have brought speech difficulty to parent’s and/or child’s attention
  • Repeats the first sound of the word (“p..p..puppy”), part of the word (“pu..pu..puppy”), repeats the whole word (“puppy, puppy, puppy”), or repeats a phrase (“I want, I want, I want, I want to go to the store”)
  • Stretches out a sound/word (“I waaaaaaaant to go to the store”, or (“ssssssssssoccer”)
  • Seems to be holding his/her breath between words
  • Unusual movements of body/face when speaking (jaw open, holding lips together, eye blinking/closing, turning of head, shrugging shoulders, etc.)
  • Less willing to talk; child/adult/family has strong concerns or fears about stuttering
  • Child/adult has been teased about his/her speech
  • Child/adult has any of above characteristics and also has difficulty organizing his/her thoughts when telling a story (i.e. something that happened at school, a movie, etc.) and says “um, uh” a lot, or will say “oh, never mind” or “oh, forget it”

How can Stuttering (Dysfluency) be helped?

Therapy techniques vary depending on the age of person and the stuttering severity. However, therapy typically involves identifying where the disruption of flow occurs (lips, tongue, vocal folds, breathing, etc), and then restoring the flow by releasing the tension of the speech muscles where the tension occurs. If necessary, therapy also focuses on eliminating unnecessary body/facial movements that can occur with stuttering. Discussions/informal counseling about fear, self-image, and self-confidence as they relate to stuttering, are addressed as needed. Similar to therapy for other speech disorders, easier goals are addressed before those that may be more challenging. For children, parental education and involvement is a key component in providing support and promoting fluent speech outside of the therapy setting. The goal of therapy is to learn pro-active techniques which result in more fluent speech, and create a sense of empowerment and control over this disorder.