Stuttering is a communication disorder that affects the rhythm or “fluency” of speech. It begins during childhood and, in some cases, persists throughout llife. The disorder is characterized by disruptions (or “dysfluencies”) in the production of speech sounds. Most speakers produce brief dysfluencies in speech from time to time. For instance, some words are repeated and others are preceded by interjections such as “um.” Dysfluencies are not necessarily problematic; however, they can impede communication when a speaker produces too many of them or they are drawn out and lengthy.
Many of us find we’re out of breath or anxious when speaking in front of an audience. Speakers who stutter exhibit excessive physical tension in the throat, mouth, and jaw and may appear to be unable to recover from the tension when talking. At times, the forward flow of speech may become completely stopped or blocked. That is, the speaker may position the mouth to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming. Finally, after some effort, the speaker completes the word. Interjections such as “um” or “like” can be symptomatic of the disorder, as well, particularly when the interjections contain repeated (“u- um- um”) or prolonged (“uuuum”) speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to “get stuck on.”
While speaking in front an audience may be temporarily uncomfortable for many of us, we do not let it impede our daily life activities. This is not so for those who live with stuttering. In most cases, stuttering impedes a speaker’s ability to perform at least some daily activities. The specific activities that a speaker finds challenging to perform vary across individuals. For some people, communication difficulties only are apparent during specific daily activities, for example, talking on the telephone or in meetings. For most others, however, communication difficulties are apparent daily to varying degrees across a host of activities at home, school, or work. Some speakers may limit the extent to which they participate in certain activities. Such “participation restrictions” often relate to concern over how others might react to dysfluent speech. Other speakers may attempt to conceal their dysfluent speech by re-arranging the words in their intended sentence, pretending to forget what they wanted to say, or declining to speak. Still other speakers may find that people exclude them from participation in certain activities because of stuttering. Clearly, the impact of stuttering on daily life can be affected by how the speaker and others react to the disorder.