October 22 is International Stuttering Awareness Day and this year’s theme is A World That Understands Stuttering.

Stuttering AwarenessAccording to the National Institute Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, it has been estimated about one percent of the general population stutters, which amounts to almost three million stutterers in the United States alone. And, stuttering is about three or four times more common in males than females.

The precise causes of stuttering are still unknown, but most researchers now consider it to be a neurological condition that interferes 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 neurological and physiological, not psychological.

Stuttering is a speech fluency disorder. People who stutter repeat sounds, syllables, or words; prolong sounds; and/or experience unwanted interruptions, known as blocks in their speech. A person who stutters knows exactly what he or she would like to say but has trouble producing a normal flow of speech.

In addition to producing disfluencies, people who stutter often experience physical tension and struggle in their speech muscles, as well as embarrassment, anxiety, and fear about speaking. Together, these symptoms can make it very difficult for people who stutter to speak, and this makes it difficult for them to communicate effectively with others.

The disorder can affect people of all ages but begins most frequently in young children between the ages of two and six, as they are developing their language skills. Approximately five to 10 percent of all children stutter for some period, lasting from a few weeks to several years. Boys are two to three times more likely than girls to stutter, and this difference increases for older children; older boys are three to four times more likely than older girls to stutter. Most children, however, outgrow stuttering.

The severity of stuttering varies widely among individuals. It may also vary in the same individual from day to day and depending on the speaking situation. Saying one’s name and speaking to authority figures may be particularly difficult. For some individuals, fatigue, stress, and time pressure can increase their tendency to stutter. When stutterers feel compelled to hide their stuttering, it generally becomes worse.

Despite scientific breakthroughs in our knowledge about stuttering, there is still no reliable, research-backed “cure” that works consistently, over time, and for all people who stutter.
Many individuals benefit from various forms of speech therapy and support groups of which the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) offers both. Controlling stuttering is a long-term project that begins with acceptance of one’s stuttering and which requires considerable patience and understanding.

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) will evaluate a number of factors including: when the stuttering first emerged, the types of disfluencies someone produces in varying situations, how someone copes with disfluencies, and someone’s speech rate and language skills.  SLPs will determine if a fluency disorder exists and the extent to which it affects someone’s ability to participate in certain daily activities.  

When assessing a young child, an SLP will try to determine if the child is likely to grow out the stuttering behavior. An SLP will also look at whether or not there is a family history of stuttering, if the behavior has lasted more than six months and if  any other speech-language problems present.

While there is no cure for stuttering, therapies can help children and adults manage the condition. For children, therapy is focused on improving speech fluency and developing positive attitudes toward communication. Early treatment of childhood stuttering may prevent it from becoming a lifelong problem.

For teens and adults, therapies focus on attempting to minimize the condition by speaking more slowly, regulating breathing or gradually progressing from single-syllable responses to more complex sentences. Therapies may also help those who stutter cope with the anxiety they feel in certain speaking situations. 

SLI offers comprehensive evaluation services and treatment plans for stuttering. Contact us today to learn more about how we personalize treatment plans for each client’s needs.

For more information on SLI’s stuttering support services or to schedule an appointment, please call 215.780.3150.