By Kathy Hubbard
According to Wikipedia, disfluency, also spelled dysfluency is “any of various breaks, irregularities (within the English language, similar speech dysfluency occurs in different forms in other languages) or non-lexical vocables that occurs within the flow of otherwise fluent speech.”
Got that? Of course you did. Basically, it’s when we don’t spit it out right.
“We all have times when we do not speak smoothly the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says. “We may add ‘uh’ or ‘you know’ to what we say. Or, we may say a sound or word more than once. These disfluencies are normal if they happen every once in a while. When it happens a lot, it may be stuttering.”
There’s a difference between disfluencies that are categorized as stuttering and those that are not. Adding an interjection such as “um” isn’t stuttering, but having a block or stop as in “I want a …cookie” is.
Repeating words with more than one syllable isn’t stuttering so if you say, “Here is my cookie-cookie-cookie” you aren’t stuttering, but you are if you add repetitions in one syllable words such as “I-I-I-I want a cookie” or if you repeat parts of a word as in, “I want a co-co-co-cookie.”
Not finishing a thought, “I want a, um …” isn’t stuttering, but if you prolong sounds, “Sssssssave me a cookie” you’re stuttering.
When you get stressed out or excited stuttering may be more pronounced. It can make you tense up and get in the way of how you talk to people. It may get worse when you’re on the phone. You may try to avoid certain words, or just refuse to talk, period.
“Stuttering usually starts between two and six years old,” ASHA says. “Many children go through normal periods of disfluency lasting less than six months. Stuttering lasting longer than this may need treatment.”
ASHA says that boys are more apt to stutter than girls and that often people who stutter have a family member who also stutters. Interestingly, children with family members who’ve stopped stuttering are more likely to stop themselves.
“People who stutter may have small differences in the way the brain works during speech,” ASHA says. “For children who stutter, mood and temperament may lead to more stuttering. Frustration or tension can cause more disfluencies. Being excited or feeling rushed can make you stutter more. You may stutter more if other people tease you or bring attention to your speech. Your stutter may embarrass you.
“Some life events may ‘trigger’ stuttering. For example, a young child may start to stutter when he learns a lot of new words fast. He may be able to say one or two words fluently. But, he may stutter when he uses longer sentences,” they say.
Help is just a phone call away. Start with your primary care provider and ask for a referral to the speech-language pathologist at Bonner General Health’s Performance Therapy Services. There it is, the unabashed plug for today!
When should you make that call? ASHA says if your child’s stuttering has lasted for six to twelve months or more you should see a speech therapist. Also, if you have a family history of stuttering, your child starts to stutter after he’s three and a half years old, your child has problems following directions, answering questions or saying sounds clearly it’s time to seek treatment.
If your child avoids talking or tells you that it’s too hard to talk, or if the stuttering has gotten progressively worse or if you’re just worried about whether or not your child stutters, see a professional.
“Treatment for fluency disorders is highly individualized and based on thorough assessment of speech fluency, language factors, emotional/attitudinal components, and life impact.” ASHA says. Treatment planning is a team effort with the child, family and therapist on the same side with the same goals and expectations.
“Most children with fluency disorders demonstrate both observable disfluency and negative life impact. When developing treatment goals, the clinician considers the extent to which stuttering affects a child’s life.”
The strategies for managing stuttering are too technical and lengthy to get into here. If you want more information, key word search “stuttering” for an abundance of information.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.