Stuttering: Unraveling the mystery:
Imagine not being able to say your own name? Imagine being scared to order a cup of coffee? Imagine having a panic attack when the phone rings? Approximately one percent of the population stutters. These tasks sound so simple to most but to three million people talking is a challenge. However these potential obstacles can hopefully be avoided when stuttering is treated early.
Stuttering is a speech disorder which consists of disruptions in the normal flow of speech. These disruptions or dysfluencies are known as repeating whole ( I I I want) or parts of words, prolonging sounds (ex: ssssand), displaying silent blocks, using filler words (um,like) and hesitations. Secondary behaviors often accompany these such as avoidance of eye contact or awkward head movements to force a word out.
Too often many parents are told to “wait” and not seek help when a child begins to stutter. Pediatricians, family members, and teachers often tell parents of their children’s stuttering “it is a phase”, “they will outgrow it” or “ignore it”. The truth is we do not know who will outgrow stuttering and leaving children struggling can significantly impact their lives.
What puts a child at risk for continued stuttering? If a child is stuttering for more than three to four months, has a family history of stuttering, is aware and/or frustrated when speaking or is visibly struggling it is time to seek help. A speech pathologist specializing in stuttering can assess the type and frequency of stuttering along with background history to help your child. Our goal at this age is to try and eliminate stuttering or decrease to mild levels. Some personality traits are also known to contribute to beginning stuttering, such as highly perfectionistic, sensitive and overreacting to criticism. It is important to note stuttering is not related to intelligence. We do not know the exact cause of stuttering.
School aged children who stutter, might begin to develop negative feelings about stuttering and are at risk of being bullied. They often need help improving fluency, feeling empowered and advocating for themselves. Schools often are unable to provide the specialties that these children require and outside intervention is needed. Many times it is important to involve families and parents on a more frequent and intensive basis. Decreasing stuttering requires practice and support.
People who stutter need to be heard. They require the listener to not interrupt, listen to the message and maintain eye contact. Their message is important and deserves to be heard. Contrary to popular belief finishing someone’s sentence encourages rushing which increases speaking anxiety and often stuttering.
Many successful people stutter, like VP Joe Biden, John Stossell and James Earl Jones. For teens and adults we now know of several intensive fluency courses that can significantly decrease stuttering and help preparing for college and job interviews more manageable. It takes hard work and intensive practice to achieve these goals but the outcome is life changing for many. Stuttering should not stop anyone from achieving their aspirations and goals.
Lori Melnitsky, MA CCC-SLP is a licensed speech/language pathologist specializing in stuttering therapy on Long Island and NYC. She directs All Island Speech and Stuttering Therapy and can be reached at 516-776-0184 or [email protected]. Lori overcame a severe stuttering disorder herself and her daughter recovered from stuttering. www.allislandspeech.com