Three Common Questions About Stuttering

This year, International Stuttering Awareness Day is October 22. In recognition of this day, here are some answers to common questions about stuttering. In addition, there are links to resources for people who stutter as well as parents and speech-language pathologists.

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a developmental disorder that affects the fluency of speech. Stuttered speech contains any combination of the following behaviors: repetitions of sounds and syllables, blocks and prolongations of sounds, and broken words during speech. Stuttered speech can also be accompanied by filler words like “um” and by physical behaviors such as eye-blinks, head and arm movements, and tension in the face and jaw. Stuttering is also often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, fear, and frustration associate with speaking.

These feelings about speaking can take many forms, as each person’s experience is unique. Some people who stutter describe avoiding words that they think they will stutter and substituting them for words they can usually speak fluently. Some people who stutter have difficulty speaking in front of a classroom or group and don’t like to participate in such activities. Others prefer not to talk on the phone, or they avoid using the drive-through. Avoiding these anxiety-inducing situations can lessen their exposure to negative speaking experiences, but it can also negatively impact quality of life.  

Some people have described stuttering like an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is the observable stuttering behavior, and the part of the iceberg that is below the water — the biggest portion of the iceberg, the part that we can’t see unless we look for it — that’s the anxiety, fear, frustration, and negative feelings about speaking in general for the person who stutters.

What causes stuttering?

The cause of stuttering is not fully understood. There has been extensive research to find the answer to this question, and while there is some evidence of a genetic link, the exact pathology of stuttering is not well known. Most children begin stuttering between 2-5 years of age, and many children will recover on their own without treatment. Still others persist in stuttering into adulthood.

What can I do to help my child who stutters?

There are a number of different types of treatment programs available for children and adults who stutter. Many of these treatments treat the “tip of the iceberg” and aim to give the speaker tools to create fluent speech. In this approach, people who stutter learn to stretch their speech, slow their speaking rate, and speak rhythmically to achieve fluent speech.

Other treatment approaches treat the “whole iceberg” by attempting to change the physiological response to a moment of stuttering from one of tension, anxiety and fear to one of relaxation and refocusing of the speech mechanism so that the speaker can continue speaking without the anxiety that can perpetuate a moment of stuttering.

Resources to Help Manage Stuttering

There are so many resources that can help a person learn about stuttering that it’s impossible to put them all here. Below are a few links to help those seeking more information get started. I hope you find these websites helpful.

Resources for Parents and People Who Stutter

Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists

To learn more about how the speech-language pathologists at Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies can help you or your child, visit or call 978-287-8200.