by Janet Turansky
One of the most common speech disorders in today’s medical landscape, stuttering refers to the interruption of speech by involuntary prolongations of sounds and repetitions of syllables or phrases. Stuttering belongs to a larger family of disorders, called disfluency, which is characterized by breaks in the flow of speech and difficulty in verbal communication.
In general, stuttering develops in children as they gradually acquire the ability to form sounds, words, and sentences. Many cases of stuttering begin with repetition of hard consonant sounds such as K, G, and T at the beginning of words, which indicates a problem with the transition of consonant sounds to either vowel sounds or subsequent consonant sounds. Stuttering can also manifest itself in the repetition of entire words at any point in a sentence, often as a result of the speaker’s multiple attempts to produce a flowing sentence. In other cases, people with stuttering may prolong continuant sounds to unnatural length, often as a deliberate attempt to transition smoothly into the rest of the word. In children, prolongation of sounds often serves as an indicator of problems with stuttering in the future.
Because stuttering has the potential to severely impair a person’s ability to communicate in an effective manner, many people who stutter become frustrated and stressed during verbal interaction, which only worsens the effects of the stuttering. In some cases, people with stuttering can experience rapid eye blinking and jerking of the head or other body parts. People who stutter often compensate by pausing between sentences or words, including extra sounds to help with transitions, repeating parts of phrases, and elongating sounds within words.
For most people, stuttering is a highly treatable condition that requires consultation with an experienced speech and language pathologist. Although the majority of early stuttering cases resolve themselves with the verbal development of the child, people whose cases persist for more than six months often benefit greatly from speech therapy. Speech therapy for stuttering primarily focuses on calming the nerves of the speaker and helping him or her to monitor the rates of speech. Participants in speech therapy often undergo a process called fluency shaping therapy, which teaches them to exercise control of their phonation, articulation, and breathing through techniques such as soft speech contacts and continuous airflow. Although the majority of techniques result in slow, monotonic speech, speakers become comfortable with speech fluency over time and find themselves able to apply their training to real-world situations.
About the author: Janet Turansky is a seasoned speech and language pathologist
with more than 30 years of experience in the field. Throughout her career, Janet Turansky has developed a comprehensive background in a wide array of speech and developmental disorders, ranging from stuttering and autism spectrum disorders to aphasia and dementia.