Image above from The Young Journalist Academy
3 million Americans deal with stuttering on a daily basis and many more will display intermittent bouts of this speech pattern. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 5% of children aged 2-5 are affected. Many will outgrow stuttering, but some can persist into adulthood. Some may acquire stuttering as they age. Its more common than we think and here are your questions answered.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is an involuntary repetition of sounds that occurs usually with the first consonant of a word. The speaker knows what he wants to say but the words may not flow smoothly.
What causes stuttering?
In children, as a child develops his speech processing, stuttering may occur when the verbal action is not in time with the cognitive formation of speech. So the mouth starts vocalizing the words prior to the brain being ready to choreograph it if you will.
In adults, brain injury or a stroke could damage the processing centers for language and cause a variety of speech issues. However, very commonly, an adult stutter is due to stress or anxiety. And once one word gets fumbled, a snowball effect can occur causing more anxiety.
What are the social effects?
Obviously many people who stutter become embarrassed and retract socially as they are afraid to speak. However, stuttering has plagued many well known people such as James Earl Jones, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Samuel Jackson, Bruce Willis, Wilt Chamberlain, Marilyn Monroe and even Tiger Woods to name a few.
Stuttering became fashionable thanks to South Park and Lady Gaga. In South park, Kyle’s Mom says “Wh, Wh, What???!!” often and Lady Gaga songs are famously catchy with lyrics such as “Wha, Wha. What did you say, oh you’re break’n up on me”, and “Po, po, po Poker face, Po, Po Poker face”…..
How to improve stuttering?
The key is to relax, and slow down. Rapid speech can accelerate stuttering. Moreover allowing the social anxiety to take over can worsen your fluency. So we recommend the following:
- Take a deep breath before you speak and in between words you feel may start with a stutter.
- Own it – if you have a stutter and feel you can’t hide it, don’t. Let the person know you’re speaking to that your words will have some rhythm to them. On air, when it happens to me I tell my listeners I felt like rapping the sentence. 🙂
- Practice reading and speaking in the mirror. The more practice the more control you may gain
- Find your trigger words, consonants and practice saying them in a variety of sentences. Even if the sentence doesn’t make sense, throw the word into your script when you practice to help train you to say the word fluidly.
Don’t use the word if you don’t want to. Substitute it for a word you do like. For example, rather than saying “have you ever been diagnosed”….substitute the word “assessed”, or “been told you had”, “suffered from”.
Rather than enunciate every single sound in a word such as “D-I-A-Betes” or “D-I-A-rrhea”….knock off the “a” and say “DI-Betes”, “DI-rrhea”, “DI-nostic”. Sounds the same and helps stop the stutter.
With S sounds, in Spanish we in some words start out with an “e”. So “School” is “escuela”, “stairs” is “escalera”. Doing a slight e before the s word can help with the S stutter.
Consult a speech therapist
There are multiple resources for those who are challenged with a stutter. These include:
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse and
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Toll-free Voice: (800) 241-1044
Toll-free TTY: (800) 241-1055
Fax: (301) 770-8977
Medical Spanish made easy
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician