Stuttering definition – in simple words
It is true that each one of us faces some form of disfluency while talking especially when facing a particularly stressful situation, fending off fatigue or speaking a new language. However, these do NOT qualify as stuttering or stammering.
Only when these disfluencies make it difficult for a person to express themselves and interrupts their flow of speech almost regularly does it become stuttering. Stuttering is when disfluencies disrupt the forward flow of speech due to their severity or high frequency.
Stuttering is present all across the world, in all the cultures. We have prominent figures in world politics, researchers, physicians, authors and, even, singers, who stutter. Sadly, not all the factors that contribute to stuttering are currently known to the scientific community.
Close to 5% of everyone stutters at some point in life. However, the prevalence of stuttering has been estimated to be about 1% according to new research published by Craig et al. in 2002.
Stuttering core behaviours
Experts characterize stuttering by the unnaturally high frequency and/or prolonged stoppages in speech. There are three core behaviours one can find in the speech of people who stutter –
- Repetitions of sounds, syllables or monosyllabic words
- Prolongation of sounds
- Blocks or blockage of airflow in speech
Stuttering secondary behaviours
People who stutter often develop “management” tactics to bypass words they find difficult to pronounce. The secondary behaviour of those who stutter primarily consists of –
- Avoidance – entirely avoiding a word or syllable or consonant in the anticipation of stuttering
- Escape – blinking of the eye, interspersing words with sounds like “uh,” or head nods that may help the person terminate a stutter.
Stuttering – Feelings & Attitudes
Emotions and attitudes are critical in stuttering. Depending on how the people around a child, who stutters react, the child can improve or show regression in their speech quality.
Those who stutter have difficulty in expressing their feelings and thoughts. Their stuttering can become worse, if they face recurrently negative reactions from their listeners. While fear, anxiety and embarrassment do not cause stuttering, these emotional reactions can worsen a person’s core behaviours of stuttering.
How does it start – when young 80% children recover.
In most of the cases, it is impossible to state when a child stuttered for the first time. However, research shows that environmental pressure and emotional distress can trigger a predisposed child to stutter. These environmental factors can include moving to a new neighbourhood, family discourses, losing a best friend or even bullying in school.
The incidence of stuttering in children is about 5% although 75% recover without any professional intervention.
How is it different from normal disfluency?
According to Frieda Goldman-Eisler (1968), all normal speech shows some level of disfluency. People intersperse meaningful words with “umm”, “like”, and “uh”. While they do create disruptions in the normal flow of speech, people often resort to them for the want of a better word to express themselves.
Such disfluencies are incredibly common in people who don’t stutter, as well as people who stutter.
However, these disfluencies reduce the “naturalness” of the speech in people who stutter.
What causes stuttering – genetics, sensitivity of child
According to modern research (Van Riper, 1982), stuttering is not a homogeneous speech disorder. In fact, speech pathologists and therapists now believe that it has an incredible heterogeneity.
However, modern methods of data collection and research have shed some light on the different factors that contribute to disfluencies in speech.
- Some children have family members (mother, father, or grandparents) who used to stutter. They might have a higher predisposition towards stuttering than other children of the same age.
- Childhood stress might be another contributing factor. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 years are most vulnerable to stuttering. This is the period when most childhood stresses make their presence felt. (Joining kindergarten, moving to a new neighbourhood or making new friends).
- The environment is another leading factor that can precipitate disfluencies in vulnerable children. Highly stressful environments like overly competitive households can contribute to stuttering in toddlers.
Managing and treating stuttering: speech therapy
Stuttering can vary in severity (on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most severe) irrespective of the person’s age. On one hand, the professional therapy takes into account the severity of stuttering, and the age of the individual in question, on the other they consider the clinical methods or approaches that can work best for the individual.
In the case of children, stuttering can begin at the age of just 18 months. Most children are unaware of their speech impediments and they do not develop a negative attitude towards their speech disfluency or any secondary behaviours. Speech therapists often find it easier to treat children and cure them of stuttering with a higher rate of success as compared to adolescents and adults.
In most cases, adolescents already have strong negative feelings associated with stammering. These feelings stem from the ridicule, condescension and, even, anger they face while growing up with a stammer. It is not enough to offer speech therapy, but SPLS also need to provide emotional support and necessary counselling that can help them overcome their escape and avoidance behaviours.
Treating stammering in adults is often the most challenging since they have fully developed core and secondary behaviours, along with a slew of negative emotions that come with stuttering. It is a long journey towards fluency for the adult and their SLPS that focuses not only on their disfluency, causes of stuttering and the triggers, but also ameliorating the negative emotions that accompany stuttering at a matured age.
Currently, there are hundreds of recognized speech pathologists, who follow their most-trusted methods for the treatment of a stuttering.