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When Speaking is Not Smooth- Let's Learn About Stuttering

Stuttering is a communication disorder involving disruptions or disfluencies while speaking*. The movie The King’s Speech offered a glimpse into the world of stuttering therapy. Although there were numerous nonsensical approaches, the movie did increase stuttering awareness and the role of a Speech-Language Pathologist.

We have all spoken with disfluent speech from time to time, such as repeating a phrase or adding “uh uhm” to sentences, but this is not considered a stuttering disorder.

What causes stuttering?

Unfortunately, we do not know exactly what causes stuttering, however we do know that brain functioning, genetics (6 out of 10 people who stutter have a family member who stutters), and environmental factors can play a role**. Boys are also more likely to stutter than girls.

What is considered stuttering?

ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) outlines the following as typical disfluencies, meaning they do not reflect a stuttering disorder**:

  • Adding a sound or word (interjection) – "I um need to go home."

  • Repeating whole words – "Well well, I don’t agree with you."

  • Repeating phrases – "He is–he is 4 years old."

  • Changing the words in a sentence, called revision– "I had–I lost my tooth."

  • Not finishing a thought – "His name is . . . I can't remember."

The following types of disfluencies do reflect a stuttering disorder**:

  • Part-word repetitions – "I w-w-w-want a drink."

  • One-syllable word repetitions – "Go-go-go away."

  • Prolonged sounds – "Ssssssssam is nice."

  • Blocks or stops – "I want a (pause) cookie."

Other behaviours may accompany the stutter such as head nodding, eye blinking, making a fist etc.

Some people only stutter with specific people, or in specific situations, or environments. Feeling excited, nervous, or frustrated can also cause more disfluencies for people who stutter.

Types of Disfluencies

1. Repetition

  • Repeating parts of words or one-syllable words

  • “I-I-I-I want a snack”

2. Prolongations

  • Stretching out a sound

  • “I sssssssssee a bunny”

3. Blocks

  • Having a hard time getting a word out

  • “My favourite (pause) animals are elephants”

When should I seek help from a Speech-Language Pathologist?**

1. Stuttering has lasted 6-12 months or more

2. Stuttering starts after 3 ½ years old

3. Your child begins to stutter more often

4. You or your child tense up or struggle when talking

5. Your child avoids talking or says it is too hard to talk

6. There is a family history of stuttering

It is important to note that stuttering may go away for approximately 75% of preschool-aged children. However, if you notice your child’s stutter lasts longer than six months, if the stutter began after 3 ½ years old, or if someone in your familiar stutters, it is best to contact a Speech-Language Pathologist***.

There is no reliable “cure” for stuttering. Strategies that work for one person, may not work for another. However, many people benefit from speech therapy! At Empower Communication Services, we look forward to using stuttering modification and fluency shaping techniques to help you or your child.

* Stuttering explained. National Stuttering Association.

*** DeTrempe, K. (2019). What one speech therapist wishes you knew about stuttering. Stanford Children’s Health.

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