Stuttering: Myths and Tips

Posted by Gena Swanagan Frazer on 2/19/2021 7:00:00 AM

As Communication Disorders go, stuttering has to be the most complex. With no clear etiology and no set pattern of errors, it is difficult to understand, even for a speech language pathologist (SLP). As a general definition, stuttering is a communication disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to speak fluently. It involves the repetition, prolongation, or blockage of sounds, syllables, or words. Stuttering typically occurs at the beginning of a sentence or clause. A student academic, social, and/or functional performance in the classroom may be negatively impacted as they may be less likely to answer questions during whole class discussions, read aloud, or even socialize with peers.  

While the SLP’s primary clinical focus is developing compensatory strategies that promote fluent speech, part of their role is debunking the myths that the stuttering might believe about their own disorder. In exploring the misconception of the impacted speaker, The Stuttering Foundation outlines the following myths for the stutterer:

  1. the idea that they will outgrow the stuttering. While there are periods of normal disfluency or stuttering  around age two as language expands, that period usually revolves in six months.  Those that continue to stutter over a period of three years, will most likely stutter throughout adulthood.  
  2. the idea that they are alone when stuttering is prevalent in approximately 1% of the Earth’s population; impacting three million people in the United States and 70 million people worldwide. The feeling of isolation or loneliness stems more from the fact that individuals that stutter may not openingly discuss it with their family and friends. Through transparent discussion, an individual can effectively diminish their feelings of isolation by allowing others a better understanding of their personal experience.
  3. the idea that one stutters because they are nervous.  While stuttering occurs when one is nervous, nervousness is not the cause of their stuttering; however, it might increase the frequency or intensity of stuttering. The frustrating fact is that just when one wants to stutter less, they stutter more.  Learning to manage the fear of stuttering will decrease overall nervousness and result in more fluent speech.
  4.  the idea that stuttering is the fault of the speaker.  While the cause of the stuttering is unknown, it is considered to be a biological and neurological disorder and is not contracted from poor parenting, a stressful childhood, or traumatic event. The variance of the disorder lends itself to just as many therapeutic approaches and strategies to manage it.  What might work one day, will not work the next; it is the nature of the disorder not the result of one’s ability or effort. 
  5.  the idea that stuttering should be hidden. Everyone feels like hiding once in a while.  Staying home from a gathering when you are not in the mood or spotting an acquaintance in the  grocery store and heading to another aisle; avoidance is a strategy known to all.  Those who stutter, have more of these episodes with simpler daily interactions such as, answering the phone or responding to a question. Feeling stuck on a word may result in answering the question using different words that may not reflect your true feelings or thoughts. This reaction is commonplace to the stutterer but ultimately results in a feeling of shame and loss of self-respect. In the end, it is far more important to say what you mean and run the risk of stuttering than the shame of stuttering.  

As the stutterer works to understand their communication disorder, the impact of the educator can make a significant difference in their ability to function within the educational setting. The Stuttering Foundation together with Dr. Lisa Scott of The Florida State University, provides educators with the following tips:

    1. Don’t tell the student to “slow down” or “just relax.”  Comments like these will lead to an increase in anxiety.
    2. Don’t complete words for the student or talk for them.
    3. Help all members of the class learn to talk to turns and listen.  Creating a classroom culture of respect benefits all students.
    4. Expect the same quality and quantity of work from the student that stutters as the students that do not. 
    5. Speak with the student in an unhurried manner, pausing frequently.  As your rate of speech increases, the students will attempt to mirror that rate which will increase the likelihood of disfluent speech.
    6.  Convey that you are listening to the content of the message, not thow it is said.
    7. Have a one-on-one conversation with the student who stutters about needed accommodations in the classroom. Respect the student’s needs, but do not be enabling.
    8. Don’t make stuttering something to be ashamed of. Talk about stuttering just like any other matter.

Through transparent and open communication, the educator will build a trusting relationship that will better serve the student communication and learning. If you are interested in learning more about stuttering, checkout  the free resources on the The Stuttering Foundation. If you have concerns about a student in your classroom who stutters, please speak to your building’s speech language pathologist. 

 Gena Swanagan Frazer

Gena Swanagan Frazer,  M. A., CCC/SLP
SLP Department Head