By Allison Elium, M.A., CCC-SLP
When I tell people about my passion for stuttering, I am often met with curiosity. I love when people ask questions, as it gives me a chance to dispel common myths about the nature, cause, and manifestation of stuttering. Often the people I'm talking to have no personal experience with stuttering; however, I also spend a good amount of time educating families of those who stutter. Both parties have interesting questions, so let's get to the answers!
Question #1: Is it helpful to remind a person who stutters to “just think about what you want to say first?"
Answer: No. People who stutter know exactly what they want to say. Stuttering does not have to do with word-finding issues or being unsure of what they want to communicate. If you want to help, focus on modeling slower-paced, relaxed speech while speaking to them. You can also concentrate on active listening: focus on their message, maintain eye contact, and allow them to finish their message without interruption.
Question #2: Do people just stutter because they are nervous or stressed?
Answer: No. Many complex factors are involved. Stress is NOT the cause, but it can certainly aggravate stuttering. Don't assume that people who stutter are more prone to be nervous, fearful, anxious, or shy. They have the same full range of personality traits as those who do not stutter.
Question #3: Sometimes I repeat myself. Does that mean I stutter too?
Answer: No. There is a difference between typical "disfluency" and stuttering. Disfluency is defined as the interruption of forward-flowing speech. Everyone is DISFLUENT at times, but not everyone STUTTERS. Certain disfluencies are typical for most speakers and are not indicative of stuttering.
*If you have concerns about stuttering, contact a local speech-language pathologist.
Question #4: Can you tell me exactly what caused my stutter?
Answer: There is no clear cut answer. Research shows that stuttering is multi-factorial. There is no one single cause, and it may have different causes in different people. Genetics, child development, neurophysiology, the interaction between language development and motor abilities, and influences of the child's environment have all been cited as factors that contribute to the development of stuttering. During an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist, the potential factors will be explored.
Question #5: My son stutters. Will he be successful? Are there other successful people who stutter?
Answer: Yes! He may have some unique challenges along the way, but people who stutter can be just as successful as people who don't stutter. In fact, many people who stutter feel as if their success is not in spite of--but because of--the challenges they've faced as a person who stutters. There are famous actors, singers, politicians, and athletes who stutter. Check out some famous people who stutter here. You may be surprised to learn that one of your favorite celebrities has a history of stuttering.
There is more to my job as a speech-language pathologist than simply helping people with their speech. With my training and expertise, I am in the perfect position to also advocate for the people I help. I want the world to be a more accepting and understanding place for them. Likewise, I want my patients to be experts on stuttering and to have the knowledge and tools to speak up for themselves when needed. If you're interested in learning more about stuttering, or if you are interested in treatment for yourself or a loved one, contact me for more information.
Allison Elium, MA, CCC-SLP is the owner of Wildflower Speech Therapy, PLLC, a private speech therapy practice in Austin, Tx. Allison specializes primarily in stuttering and speech disorders in children and adults. Read more about her approach here.