Fluency 101: What is Stuttering? - Hearing and Speech Agency

Fluency 101: What is Stuttering?

Fluency disorders, including stuttering, are pretty complicated. By understanding what they are and where they come from, we can help to support people who stutter and everyone they communicate with—including ourselves!

Characteristics of Stuttering
Stuttering is typically characterized by the repetition of sounds or syllables at the start of speech. However, other types of behaviors can also be categorized as dysfluency. Many children experience non-fluent speaking patterns when developing language, usually referred to as “developmental stuttering.” This is the result of learning and practicing new grammatical patterns and longer, more complex sentences. In most cases, these children are able to resume fluent speech without intervention as they get older. Non-fluent behaviors associated with the development of language include repetitions of phrases, whole words, or parts of words.

Atypical speaking patterns associated with dysfluency, or persistent stuttering, include part-word repetitions, prolongations, and blocks. Part-word repetitions are the most easily identified as stuttering; the first part of a word or sound is repeated. Prolongations are characterized by holding out a sound for a longer amount of time than expected, with difficulty transitioning to the rest of the word. Blocks occur as a result of increased tension within the speech mechanism and interfere with the onset of the voice. Often, blocks are described as “silent” and may not initially be perceived as stuttering.

In some cases, secondary behaviors may be present along with stuttering. These include atypical movement of the head or extremities, avoidance of eye contact, facial grimaces such as lip pressing, or distracting sounds. Secondary behaviors arise as individuals attempt to avoid or compensate for stuttering; in some cases, these behaviors can impact communication more significantly than dysfluency itself.

Cluttering, another type of fluency disorder, is sometimes confused with stuttering. Both disorders involve non-fluent speech that impacts the individual’s ability to communicate effectively. However, unlike stuttering, people who clutter generally do not have difficulty producing speech sounds and show little physical struggle when speaking. Cluttering is characterized by rapid, irregular bursts of speech, likely containing articulation errors as longer words are condensed. Related difficulties such as disorganization, sloppy handwriting, and distractibility may also be present. While cluttering and stuttering are different disorders, they may co-occur.

Jennifer Smith is a speech-language pathologist at The Hearing and Speech Agency. 

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