What is stuttering?
Stuttering affects the fluency of speech. It begins during childhood and, in some cases, lasts throughout life. The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.” Most people produce brief disfluencies from time to time. For instance, some words are repeated and others are preceded by “um” or “uh.” Disfluencies are not necessarily a problem; however, they can impede communication when a person produces too many of them.
In most cases, stuttering has an impact on at least some daily activities. The specific activities that a person finds challenging to perform vary across individuals. For some people, communication difficulties only happen during specific activities, for example, talking on the telephone or talking before large groups. For most others, however, communication difficulties occur across a number of activities at home, school, or work. Some people may limit their participation in certain activities. Such “participation restrictions” often occur because the person is concerned about how others might react to disfluent speech. Other people may try to hide their disfluent speech from others by rearranging the words in their sentence (circumlocution), pretending to forget what they wanted to say, or declining to speak. Other people may find that they are excluded from participating in certain activities because of stuttering. Clearly, the impact of stuttering on daily life can be affected by how the person and others react to the disorder.
What are signs and symptoms of stuttering?
Stuttered speech often includes repetitions of words or parts of words, as well as prolongations of speech sounds. These disfluencies occur more often in persons who stutter than they do in the general population. Some people who stutter appear very tense or “out of breath” when talking. Speech may become completely stopped or blocked. Blocked is when the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming. After some effort, the person may complete the word. Interjections such as “um” or “like” can occur, as well, particularly when they contain repeated (“u- um- um”) or prolonged (“uuuum”) speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to “get stuck on.”
Some examples of stuttering include:
• “W- W- W- Where are you going?” (Part-word repetition: The person is having difficulty moving from the “w” in “where” to the remaining sounds in the word. On the fourth attempt, he successfully completes the word.)
• “SSSS ave me a seat.” (Sound prolongation: The person is having difficulty moving from the “s” in “save” to the remaining sounds in the word. He continues to say the “s” sound until he is able to complete the word.)
• “I’ll meet you – um um you know like – around six o’clock.” (A series of interjections: The person expects to have difficulty smoothly joining the word “you” with the word “around.” In response to the anticipated difficulty, he produces several interjections until he is able to say the word “around” smoothly.)
How is stuttering diagnosed?
Identifying stuttering in an individual’s speech would seem like an easy task. Disfluencies often “stand out” and disrupt a person’s communication. Listeners can usually detect when a person is stuttering. At the same time, however, stuttering can affect more than just a person’s observable speech. Some characteristics of stuttered speech are not as easy for listeners to detect. As a result, diagnosing stuttering requires the skills of a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).
During an evaluation, an SLP will note the number and types of speech disfluencies a person produces in various situations. The SLP will also assess the ways in which the person reacts to and copes with disfluencies. The SLP may also gather information about factors such as teasing that may make the problem worse. A variety of other assessments (e.g., speech rate, language skills) may be completed as well, depending upon the person’s age and history. Information about the person is then analyzed to determine whether a fluency disorder exists. If so, the extent to which it affects the ability to perform and participate in daily activities is determined