Stuttering, also referred to as stammering, is a speech disorder that causes interruptions and other problems in the normal flow of speech. When you stutter, you know what you want to say, but you have trouble saying it. You may repeat or prolong a word, syllable or phrase, or have abnormal stops in your speech where you do not make any sound for some syllables.
Stuttering is common among children, but the majority grow out of it. For others, stuttering continues into adulthood, becoming a chronic condition that affects aspects of your life such as relationships, your job, or even your self confidence. A lot is still being researched about this communication disorder, but here is what we do know about it including symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatments.
Symptoms of stuttering can worsen if you're tired, stressed, self-conscious, anxious, or excited. Identifying whether or not a communication disorder is present can sometimes be difficult, but the following are signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Prolonging a word or syllable
- Trouble starting a word, sentence, or phrase
- Repeating a syllable or word
- No sound for certain syllables or pauses within a word
- Adding an extra word (usually "um") in between words
- Anxiety about talking
- Tension or tightness in the face or upper body when speaking
Body and facial expression that can accompany stuttering include:
- Rapid eye blinking
- Facial tics
- Head jerks
- Clenching fists
- Tremors of the jaw or lips
The underlying cause of stuttering has not yet been identified, but theories of why some people stutter include:
- Genetics: Stuttering is known to run in families. It may be caused by a genetic abnormality in the brain’s language center.
- Neurophysiology: When signals between the brain and speech nerves and muscles are not functioning properly stuttering occurs
The following are identified factors that increase the risk for stuttering:
- A family history of stuttering
- Delayed development or speech problems
- Being male
- Length of speech problems
A diagnosis can be made by observing the adult or child who is stuttering while they speak in several different types of situations. A doctor or speech-language pathologist will evaluate you and ask you questions related to your stuttering, and also rule out any other medical or mental health condition that might be causing problems.
There are several effective treatment options. They include:
- Controlled fluency: This teaches you to control the speed of your speech and your breathing
- Electronic devices: These tools are used to work on the speed of your speech and allow you to listen to your own voice.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This changes ways of thinking that make your stuttering worse and also helps you work on feelings caused by your stuttering like stress, anxiety, or self-esteem problems.