Everyone stumbles over their words at times. But when the flow of a child’s or adult’s speech is significantly disrupted, it may be a sign of stuttering, a common communication disorder that affects nearly three million people.
People who stutter know what they want to say but have difficulty fluently stating it.
Stuttering is characterized by the repetition of syllables and words along with the prolongation of sounds such as “sssss.” They may also experience blocks in speech or have difficulty starting a word, phrase, or sentence.
Stuttering or fluency disorders can be managed with the right treatment and support. Early intervention is key. Lead speech therapist, Nicole Mack, MS, CCC-SLP, is one of several practitioners at Summit Health who specializes in evaluating and managing stuttering disorders.
Living with stuttering can have a profound impact on the emotional health of both children and adults as well as their families. Ms. Mack answers some commonly asked questions about diagnosis and treatment in addition to clearing up several misconceptions.
Q. When does stuttering start?
A. Stuttering usually appears when a child is between 2 and 6 years old. At this age, some stuttering is considered developmental and typically remediates on its own during the preschool years. But when stuttering continues for longer than 6 to 12 months or causes a significant disruption in the child’s ability to communicate, a speech pathologist should be consulted. Neurogenic stuttering, which is typically seen later in life, is the result of an injury or disease such as a stroke.
Q. Who is most likely to develop a stutter? Is it genetic?
A. Studies suggest there are differences in the brain during speech production in people who stutter. Several risk factors are associated with stuttering. Individuals are more likely to stutter if they are male, begin to stutter after age three and a half, and have family members who also suffer from a fluency disorder.
Q. How is stuttering diagnosed?
A. Stuttering or a fluency disorder is typically diagnosed by a speech pathologist after a thorough evaluation. Anyone can stumble over their words at times. Specialists at Summit Health are trained to identify concerning disfluencies in speech including
repetitions, prolongations, and blocks which are an inaudible tension that are observed when someone tries to speak but produces no sound.
Q. How can stuttering be managed?
A. There is no cure or quick fix for stuttering. With speech therapy, a person can learn strategies to increase fluency and move through moments of stuttering more effectively. Speech therapy can positively influence how a person who stutters sees themselves and participates in their daily life including school, extra-curricular activities, work, and interaction with peers.
Q. Who manages stuttering disorders?
A. Speech language pathologists diagnose and treat people of all ages who stutter. Speech therapy is typically performed in a one-on-one therapeutic setting. My colleagues and I work on strategies to increase fluency, manage stuttering moments, and address feelings around stuttering. Sometimes therapy is done in small groups, which can be very supportive and beneficial to the patient.
Q. How does stuttering affect the emotional health of children and adults?
A. Every individual has a different response. I have seen many patients handle stuttering in stride. They do not let it negatively impact their lives or restrict them in any way. I have also seen other children and adults who live with feelings of fear, embarrassment, and shame. Stuttering can be very painful for patients and their families.
Q. Are there any misconceptions about stuttering that you would like to address?
A. I think a general misconception about stuttering is that it has something to do with an individual’s intellect or ability to achieve great things. But this is completely untrue. I always try hard to make sure the children I treat understand this about themselves. I remind them that this is one small thing about them like their height or their hair color and that they can do anything they want to in life.