Actually, no. While all speakers have some occasional disfluencies, such as producing interjections or reformulating what we are saying mid-word, these do not qualify as stuttering. Unlike those with normal disfluency, people who stutter experience a marked feeling of loss of control and uniquely anticipate and try to avoid moments of stuttered speech. Those who stutter often experience negative emotions and thoughts related to their difficulty. In addition, they may limit their participation in certain activities and make important life decisions based on their speech fluency.
Delayed auditory feedback has been used to try to help people who stutter. While wearing such a device, the speaker hears his voice with a slight time delay. While many people who stutter do experience short term fluency gains while using the device, the large majority report that the benefits wear off over time. In addition, speakers report that the auditory delay is actually distracting and extremely annoying.
We know that stuttering has a genetic basis and that environmental and other factors can influence its expression. Therefore, childhood trauma or bad parenting might serve to trigger or worsen the severity of the stuttering, but neither of these alone would be considered the actual cause.
Most people who stutter are fluent when they sing because singing accesses different areas of the brain compared to speaking. In addition, those who stutter commonly stutter much less when they are speaking alone to themselves or when speaking alone to a pet or infant. While the full dynamics of these observations are still being explored, we do have evidence that the tension and severity of stuttering is often reduced in environments where there is little concern about stuttering or its consequences.
Pre-school children do typically go through periods of speech disfluency where they repeat words and phrases. This is perfectly normal. However, around 5% of young children show signs of actual stuttering, which include more tense and frequent sound repetitions, prolongations of sounds, and speech blocks, often accompanied by physical tension when speaking. While 75%-80% of children will not continue to stutter, certain factors, including family history and overall language abilities, influence the chances of recovery. For those children who continue to stutter, specialized therapy can help minimize avoidance and physical struggle and help the child maintain confidence and participation in social and academic settings.
ASHA (The American Speech-Language Hearing Association) began to recognize therapists as Stuttering Specialists in 1998. There are currently fewer than 180 such professionals in the US. While all licensed Speech-Language-Pathologists have received some general coursework in stuttering, the large majority are not adequately trained to work with people who stutter. Unfortunately, many such therapists treat those who stutter anyway, often with very poor results.
At AIS, we work with people all across the lifespan. Treatment for young children involves educating the family, helping them modify environmental factors that contribute to stuttering and to provide an environment that is conducive to effective, free-flowing communication. For children who are more aware of their stuttering, we work to promote feelings of confidence communicating, help the child navigate feelings about stuttering, and work on speaking with less tension and struggle.
For older teens and adults, treatment focuses on helping the individual effectively manage their stuttering in the real world. Clients identify and reduce avoidance behaviors, including the physical “tricks” they have come to adopt when stuttering. They complete extensive desensitization activities on the telephone and out in the world while working to reframe the negative thoughts and emotions that activate tense, avoidant stuttering patterns. Rather than focus primarily on fluency, AIS helps clients develop effective communication skills and the confidence to say what they want to say, whether they stutter or not.