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MS, CCC-SLP

Lillian Agresta
MS, CCC-SLP


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Stuttering

On this page:

What is stuttering?

Stuttering sometimes referred to as stammering or disfluent speech, is a speech disorder. As a person who stutters tries to speak, he or she may exhibit these characteristics.

  • Frequent repetitions, prolongations, pauses, or hesitations of speech sounds, syllables, words or phrases.
  • Secondary behaviors such as eye blinking, squinting, muscle tension around lips or jaw.
  • Other stuttering behaviors

No two stutterers stutter alike. Disfluent speech patterns are as unique as our fingerprints. Each stutterer should be treated according to his/her individual needs.

Stuttering affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Although it most frequently occurs in children between the ages of two and six, it can affect all age groups. It occurs three times more often in males than females.

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What causes stuttering?

The exact mechanical causes of stuttering are not completely understood. Though there is a well-accepted physical cause known as a, “laryngospasm” or “locking of the vocal cords”. There is also an hereditary factor.

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What are the different types of stuttering?

There are several types of stuttering, including:

Developmental

This is the most common type of stuttering, which occurs in children. As their speech and language processes are developing, they may not be able to meet verbal demands.

Neurogenic

Neurogenic stuttering is also a common disorder that occurs from signal problems between the brain and nerves and muscles.

Psychogenic

Psychogenic stuttering is believed to originate in the mind in the area of the brain that directs thought and reasoning. This type of stuttering may occur in people with mental illness or who have experienced mental stress or anguish. However, although stuttering may cause emotional problems, it is not believed to be the result of emotional problems.

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How is stuttering diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history, diagnosis of stuttering may also include:

  • A detailed history of the development of the disorder.
  • An evaluation of speech and language abilities by a licensed speech pathologist specializing in fluency disorders.

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Treatment for stuttering

Early intervention for a child who has been exhibiting a disfluent speech pattern for more than three to six months is highly recommended. This early identification and intervention may keep stuttering from becoming a life-long problem. The goal of treatment is to focus on relearning how to speak or to unlearn incorrect ways of speaking. Thus eliminating the disfluent speech pattern called, “stuttering”.

Parents of children who stutter may be encouraged to:

  1. Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes speaking before you begin to speak. Your own slow, relaxed speech will be far more effective than criticism or advice such as, “slow down” or “try it again, slowly”.
  2. Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. Instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting him or her know you heard them.
  3. Try to look at your child when he/she is speaking to you. this assures that he has your attention. The tactile or touch response will also assure him that he has your full attention.
  4. Help all members of the family learn to take turns talking and listening. Children especially those who stutter, find it much easier to talk when there are few interruptions and they have the listener’s attention.
  5. Observe the way you interact with your child. Try to reassure your child that he/she has plenty of time to talk and that you are listening.
  6. Set aside a few moments at a regular time each day when you can give your undivided attention to your child. Let the child choose what he would like to do. When you talk during this special time, use slow, calm and relaxed speech with plenty of pauses.
  7. Convey that you accept and support your child as he is. Your own slower, more relaxed speech and the things you do to help build this confidence as a speaker are likely to increase his fluency and diminish his stuttering.

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To the classroom teacher (for the child who stutters at school):

  1. Consult with the school’s speech pathologist for suggestions.
  2. Talk to the parents about their opinion of the problem so that you and they can be consistent in the things you do.
  3. A major concern for most teachers is the child’s reactions to his stuttering in the classroom. There are no set rules about participation in class. At one extreme is the child who may be quite unconcerned and happy to participate like any other child. At the other extreme, the child may cry and refuse to talk. Most cases are somewhere in between.
  4. Talk with the child privately. Show your support. Show him you are aware of his stuttering (elementary school children) and that you accept it and him.
  5. Answering questions: As you are asking questions in the classroom, you can do certain things to make it easier for a child who stutters.
    1. Initially, until he adjusts to the class, ask him questions that can be answered with relatively few words.
    2. If every child is going to be asked a question, call on the child who stutters fairly early. Tension and worry can build up the longer he has to wait his turn.
    3. Assure the whole class that they will have as much time as they need to answer questions and you are interested in having them take time and think through their answers, not just answer quickly.
  6. Reading aloud in class: Many children who stutter are able to handle oral reading tasks in the classroom satisfactorily, particularly if they are encouraged to practice at home. There will be some, however, who will stutter severely while reading aloud in class. The following suggestions may help:
    1. Reading in unison with someone else is very helpful. Let the child have his turn with one of the other children.
    2. Let the whole class read in pairs sometimes, so that the child who stutters doesn’t feel “special”. Gradually, he may become more confident and able to manage reading out loud on his own.
  7. Addressing teasing: The following suggestions may be helpful to deal with teasing.
    1. If the child has been upset with teasing, talk with him.
    2. Point out that many children are teased for many things.
    3. Tell the child to try not to take it too seriously.
    4. If certain children are picking on him, talk to them alone. Try to enlist their help. Most want the approval of their teacher. Punishing them for teasing does not help.
  8. If no speech clinician is available, suggest to the parents that they seek one out who is licensed and specializes in stuttering.

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Sources:

  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
  2. The Stuttering Foundation of America