It’s National Stuttering Awareness Week: What You Need to Know
Faith Hudnall, pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) at Riley Hospital for Children, shares helpful info about stuttering.
This week marks National Stuttering Awareness Week. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, I frequently have the opportunity to work with families that suspect their child is stuttering. Truthfully, it can even be challenging for an SLP to sort out typical development from what can be considered a communication disorder. So, today I’d like to share some helpful information.
According to the National Stuttering Foundation, stuttering is considered “a communication disorder where the flow of speech is broken by repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages of speech.” Sometimes, unexpected facial and body movements can become associated with the act of speaking for someone who stutters (eye blinks, fist clenching, etc.).
All of us experience disfluencies at times; we may repeat words or use the interjections “like” and “um.” However, when the frequency of disfluencies is such that communication is impeded or avoided, stuttering may be occurring. Sometimes people who stutter may dodge speaking situations that frequently lead to stuttering (talking on the phone, speaking in a group, etc.).
Even though the majority of children who exhibit stuttering will stop stuttering by late childhood, a small number of them will continue to stutter into adulthood. About 3 million Americans stutter, and from a global perspective, about 1 percent of the world’s population stutters.
Four factors are generally the focus during an evaluation for stuttering: family history of stuttering (we know there is a strong genetic component to stuttering, and stuttering affects four times as many males as females); presence of other speech or language disorders (children with other speech and language delays are more likely to stutter); timeline (stuttering that has occurred for 6 months or longer is worth noting) and family dynamics (parents and/or children may have strong fears, reactions, or concerns about stuttering).
Some examples of speech behavior that would be assessed during an evaluation for stuttering would be: repetitions (bu-bu-bu-but why), prolongations (yyyyyou said so), and blocks (mouth is trying to say a word, with little or no sound occurring).
If treatment is warranted for someone following an evaluation for stuttering, SLPs work with those individuals and their families so that they can communicate more fluently, more effectively and participate fully in their lives. There are a variety of successful approaches for treating both children and adults who stutter. Treatment is grounded in behavioral methods meaning that the person who stutters is taught specific skills or behaviors that are designed to enable improved oral communication. Specific skills may involve controlling or monitoring speaking rate, saying words slower and with a less effortful manner. Also, because speech is driven by the respiratory system, controlling and monitoring breathing may also be a focus of treatment.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), when talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is let them know you’re more interested in what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. Avoid saying things like “slow down,” “relax,” or “take a deep breath” because statements like these can be seen as dismissive and make the person feel even more uncomfortable. Everyone who stutters will have different ways of navigating their speech so that they can communicate as effectively and efficiently as possible. Please give someone who stutters the time they need to communicate with you.
-- By Faith Hudnall, MS, CCC-SLP