Stuttering is a speech disorder, which cannot always be cured. Teens and adults who have been struggling with stuttering for years face difficulty in attaining fluent speech.
What Is Fluency Shaping?
Fluency shaping (FS) includes multiple operant techniques that may replace stuttered speech with fluent stuttering.
In the early days of speech therapy, fluency shaping was used by experts without the aid of modification techniques. The trend was to provide little attention to the emotions, attitudes, and feelings of people who stutter (PWS)
According to Barry Guitar, in his 1982 publication in the Journal of Childhood Communication Disorders, fluency shaping works best when Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) use it in conjunction with other techniques. It works most effectively as a part of broader speech therapy programs.
One of the unique features of fluency shaping is that it does not teach people who stutter to confront their disfluencies for speech modification. SLPs who advocate stuttering modification techniques teach their clients to confront their stuttering.
In stark contrast to stuttering modification techniques, fluency shaping does not delve deeper into the feelings and attitudes that result from stuttering.
SLPs use a combination of fluency shaping techniques to address a client’s stuttering. The techniques depend on the age of the client, and the severity of their stuttering among other factors.
Here in this post, we will shed light on some popular fluency shaping techniques you may come across during stuttering therapy.
Several speech therapists utilize a variation of the original prolonged speech technique described by Goldiamond in 1965. Deliberately prolonging one’s speech can modify stuttering in clients of any age.
An SLP can utilize the following fluency shaping techniques to prolong their client’s speech –
1. Slowed Speech or Stretched Syllable Technique
The first step to fluency shaping is mastering very deliberate and slow speaking. The typical rate recommended by an SLP can be around 40 to 60 syllables per minute.
How to Practice Slowed Speech or Stretched Syllable Technique?
- Break every word down to its syllables. For example, “Lemon” would be broken down to “le” and “mon”.
- Try to stretch out every syllable for at least 2 seconds. Make sure to stretch the first sound in the syllable.
For example, in “Lemon,” you should stretch out the “L” for a second before saying “e” for the next 2 seconds. Do the same for “mon”. It should sound like “Llll (1 second)-eee (2 seconds)” (rest) “mmm (1 second)-ooon (2 seconds).
This rate sounds quite unnatural. Without the guidance of a trained speech therapist or an interactive speech therapy app, you may find it challenging to attain this speech rate.
However, once you master slowed speech, the SLP will introduce you to faster speaking rates of up to 150 syllables per minute. It is the typical syllable rate of adults who are fluent.
B, D, G, H, F, K, P, S, T, SH, CH, and TH are unvoiced or stop speech sounds which you should never stretch. When you encounter these sounds, instead of stretching them, move through them quickly and stretch the next stretchable sound, which may include – A, E, I, O, U, J, L, M, N, R, V, W, Y, Z, or a voiced TH.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing
People who stutter may develop poor breathing strategies as they struggle with blocks and repetitions for many years. Quick and shallow breathing, gulping for air, or trying to squeeze out air are some practices PWS acquire due to their struggles with long-term disfluencies.
Costal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing techniques can help you take back control of your breath and voice.
How to Master Diaphragmatic Breathing?
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Feel your mouth, jaw, throat, and neck relax as you breathe out.
- Take a deep breath. Feel your belly rise to the fullest extent.
- Breathe out all the air. Feel your belly fall. Relax your diaphragm.
Keep following steps 2 and 3 till you feel yourself completely relaxing. Diaphragmatic breathing is all about relaxing completely. It will also relax your articulator muscles. You will require diaphragmatic breathing in all the fluency shaping techniques we discuss subsequently.
3. Light Articulatory Contacts
While pronouncing words like “Put,” “Butter,” or “Pet,” we have to bring our lips together briefly to produce the initial sound. Similarly, while saying words that begin with “E,” we need to pull our vocal cords together.
These point-contacts can lead to blocks. Light articulatory contact (LAC) can help you overcome these blocks and move on with the word.
Steps to Apply Light Articulatory Contracts (LAC) Fluency Shaping Technique
- Your first task is to determine which articulators you use to make a sound. For example, to say “ball,” you are primarily using your lips to make the /b/ sound.
- Next, feel your mouth come into that position to say that sound.
- Make the lightest touch of your lips (in this case) to make the /b/ sound and continue with the word.
It’s as simple as that! LAC can help you say even the worst-feared-words with the least bit of stuttering.
4. Gentle Initiation Technique
One of the foremost goals of fluency shaping is to lessen the tension on the muscles involved in speech production. Excess pressure on the laryngeal muscles can prevent them from coming together and moving in harmony with one another to produce smooth speech.
People who stutter face blocks too often due to vocal cords “turning on” suddenly or abruptly.
In easy phrase initiation, the SLP teaches the client to not apply hard force while producing the first sound of every word or syllable.
How to Practice Gentle Initiation Technique
- Assume a low volume and begin speaking with the lowest vibrations of the vocal cords.
- Gradually increase the volume, and strength of your voice to a level that feels normal for you.
- Decrease the strength and volume back gradually to the initial soft level once again.
You don’t have to stretch. Apply this technique to each syllable. It may sound artificial and unnatural at first. However, once you master this fluency-shaping technique, you can apply it organically for achieving fluent speech sans blocks and repetitions.
5. Passive Airflow Technique
To master the passive airflow technique, you should already be familiar with diaphragmatic breathing and stretched syllable techniques discussed above. Passive airflow technique should ease the beginning of sentences and maintain fluency.
Follow These Steps to Practice Passive Airflow Technique
- Take in a complete breath (like diaphragmatic breathing).
- Let out a little bit of air (the passive exhale).
- Start speaking using the stretched syllable technique you have already learned, once you have let the passive exhale out.
The small volume of air you let out before you begin speaking will keep your vocal folds relaxed and open. It will prevent blocking while you finish your sentence.
Just remember not to rush through, but to apply the stretched syllable technique and LAC wherever necessary.
6. Continuous Phonation
It borrows a leaf from singing to keep your speech smooth and effortless. Think of it as a way to keep your voice “turned on.”
You will need to practice diaphragmatic breathing, stretched syllables, and passive airflow techniques to learn and apply continuous phonation.
How to Practice Continuous Phonation
- Focus on your articulators once again.
- Maintain constant and continuous airflow as you speak.
- You should aim at reducing the break between words.
It is important not to rush through. Continuous phonation is a little difficult to master. You may need the help of an experienced speech therapist. They can help you get the feel of the continuous vibrations as you keep your voice “turned on”.
It is imperative for anyone who stutters to master the previous techniques before they can start with continuous phonation.
What Is the Difference between Fluency Enhancement & Stuttering Modification?
Fluency shaping or fluency enhancement involves techniques like deep breathing, slowed speech rate, light articulatory contact, and gentle initiations. These are all strategies that facilitate more fluent speech.
Fluency shaping strategies aim to help you speak with increased fluency. Improving your fluency of speech makes you confident and reduces negative feelings regarding stuttering.
Stuttering modification strategies, on the other hand, involve exercises and techniques that work directly on one’s stuttering.
These are exercises that help people increase their awareness about how and when they stutter. They may decrease one's fear of stuttering by facilitating desensitization and reduction of avoidance behaviors. Stuttering modification involves predicting and catching one’s stuttering as it’s about to happen. Then, applying strategies to reduce the struggles and allowing stuttering in a more relaxed manner.
Stuttering modification techniques involve strategies like catching the stutter, relaxing the stuttering, pulling out, and cancellation.
Long-term Effects of Fluency Shaping Techniques
In recent publications, researchers have demonstrated that practicing fluency shaping techniques has a long-term impact on the auditory-to-motor pathways inside the human brain.
It is well-known that fluency-shaping enhances the speech fluency of the person who stutters. However, the neuroplasticity-related impact of fluency-shaping was unknown until recently. The new research sheds light on what happens after you master and practice fluency shaping techniques daily.
According to Korzeczek et. al., it increases the connectivity within the sensorimotor integration network. The enhanced fluency comes from a strengthened auditory-to-motor coupling and enhanced integration of the command-to-execution pathway.
Thus, speech therapy can “rewire” your brain and help you speak more smoothly.
Fluency shaping techniques have helped reduce stuttering and induce fluency in thousands. However, it is most effective when used with speech modification and cognitive behavioral therapy on clients.
The success of fluency shaping techniques also depends upon one’s willingness to practice and apply them to everyday conversations. Tracking one’s progress is also of utmost importance while implementing these techniques.
You should work with your speech therapist to learn and use fluency shaping techniques. Or, you can use an app like Stamurai to master fluency shaping techniques discussed in this post and various stuttering exercises that we have discussed in another post!