Why do less than 1% of people stutter in the world when more than 99% of us don’t?

Reason for writing on this topic:

Less than 1% of the general population stutter, and having grown up with this condition (my fluency has improved compared to my childhood years), there are constant misconceptions from people I interact with. I am not a speech specialist, nor am I well-read on this issue, so I hope readers can take my views as based on what I know about my own stuttering (which I do not know the main cause for it since I did not go for a specialised check up when I was young), as well as some information I have researched online.

**Please do not generalise the content of this post to all types and levels of stuttering individuals.**

[Please read these 3 short articles to better understand stuttering is about]

BetterHealthChannel: Stuttering (different levels)

JKP Blog: 5 myths on stuttering

Teachspeechtherapy.com: Common misconceptions on childhood stuttering

Content:

  1. Diffrent causes of stuttering
  2. Common elements of stuttering and examples
  3. General misconceptions towards my stuttering
  4. Interacting with a stuttering individual 101
  5. Informative Reads
  6. Resources for Speech Therapy (assessment/intervention)

Different causes of stuttering

  1. Developmental – most common in children younger than five years old as their speech and language abilities develop (may resolve without treatment)
  2. Delayed childhood development e.g. start to speak at a later age
  3. Genetics (e.g. relatives who stutter)
  4. Neurogenic–caused by signal abnormalities between the brain and nerves/muscles which leads to issues with speech control e.g.  timing, sensory and motor coordination
  5. Psychological – originates in the part of the brain that governs thinking and reasoning
  6. Severe emotional trauma e.g. A child that was traumatized by a shocking accident may stop speaking

My level of stuttering: Very Mild

Possible causes for my stuttering: 

Genetics – Some of my relatives have a history of stuttering

Delayed Childhood development – I started to speak only at the age of 3 when more children speak at an early age

Neurogenic – Have speech control issues

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When I talk, why do I add in an additional or extra sound?

At times, people may ask why I pronounce a word in a funny way. This is connected to Common elements of stuttering: “B” – fixed postures (see below).

Common elements of stuttering and examples:

A) Repetition in a single syllable

Normal speech: “I’m going to the market.”

Stuttering: “I’m go-go-ing to the mar-mar ket.” (repeating of a syllabus)

B) Fixed Postures

Normal speech: “Maybe I should leave the house?”

Stuttering: “Mayyyyyyybe I should leave theeeee house?” (dragging or prolonging of a sound)

Stuttering: “Maybe (long pause) I should leave (long pause) the house?” [The long pause is due to difficulty in vocalizing out the words]

C) Superfluous behaviours

Normal speech: “What did poverty teach you?”

Stuttering: “What did poverty teach-er you?” (interject unnecessary sound to cover up the stuttering loop)

Stuttering: “I love to (pretend to cough, or sound out of breath – to cover up the stuttering loop) read interesting poems.”

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Nina G

[General Misconceptions towards my stuttering]

#1 My stuttering was because of a traumatic incident, or that I was emotionally abused when I was young?

There are cases where stuttering is caused by such reasons, but it does not apply to all stuttering individuals. The cause of stuttering for any individual can be due to diverse range of reasons e.g. any one of the 6 respective causes listed above in the post. 

#2 Why do my stuttering not occur when I give public speeches, even though I stutter during normal conversations?

During social interactions, I am more aware and self-conscious – as not only do I struggle with verbalizing out my words, I also have to worry about others judging my stuttering (that is most probably going to occur when I speak) before I even speak, adding on to finding ways to cover it up when it happens.

All these thinking processes, actions, and fears combined together hampers the whole process of talking in a confident and smooth manner. For public speeches that are memorised or read out, there is lesser or no stuttering as the thinking process is lesser and thus, also easier.

#3 Why do I stutter at different frequency at different periods?

At times, I stutter quite little. Other times, I can stutter at a very high frequency. This high and low period of stuttering is something beyond my control, and I would see that as the main factor that determines when I stutter a lot, and when I do not.

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#4 Why do I suddenly talk in a high pitch voice when I start conversing, or during the middle of a conversation?

People ask why I seem to put in so much effort, or require such a heavy breath when I start to speak. This is because I struggle and face difficulty to verbalize out the beginning of my words as compared to a normal person. I may even talk quite loud without realizing, due to the effort put in to vocalize out my words which ends up straining my vocal chords, and I can even get a sore throat more than a normal person from normal speech.

# 5 I mainly stutter because I do not prepare what to say beforehand, am nervous, or lack confidence?

Like any other normal person, we may stutter either when we lie or feel nervous e.g. just before a presentation. When I’m not aware of my stuttering, am less nervous and more confident, or at my low stuttering frequency period, I do stutter much lesser too. But these are once again minor perpetuating factors, not main factors as stuttering neither has a direct link, nor is it a cause of nervousness or stress in any ways.

# 6 Why I am not able to enunciate words as clearly as others?

When I pronounce words with a lot of parts e.g. “de-mo-crac-tic”, it does not come out as clearly as I take more effort to enunciate out words requiring more “intense” articulation. As such, I sound like I’m rushing through the words intentionally even though I’m not.

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#7 People who stutter may be less smart or capable than a normal person?

In the past, I chose to not talk when my stuttering was severe, and I do talk slower when the words are hard to come out. But that does not mean I process my thoughts any slower than that of a normal person. Individuals who stutter have the same IQ as any other normal person. But, as we may have less practice of vocalizing out our thoughts as frequently and confidently, some of us may not be as vocally expressive or fluent as such.

#8 Stuttering can be stopped, just that I’m not motivated enough?

This is an extremely common misconception faced by the general public. It might apply to some stuttering individuals, but not all. Stuttering can be improved or controlled, but it may not be something that can be fully cured or stopped. However, I would encourage parents who suspect, or are aware that their young child may face speech issues e.g. delayed speech, stuttering – to bring them for an assessment, that will allow them to receive early intervention in speech therapy if they need. Adults with stuttering can also seek treatment.

#9 Practicing singing, or slowing down on my words will decrease my stuttering?

Practicing singing does not help in decreasing my stuttering. When I sing, give public speeches which are prepared beforehand, or read out words from a book, I do not even stutter at times (not taking into consideration other perpetuating factors). Sometimes, constantly telling the stuttering individual to slow down when he is already talking at a normal speed may cause him to be even more self-conscious of his stuttering as a result.

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#10 Is stuttering contagious?

Unlike coughing or yawning, it is not contagious.

Interacting with a stuttering individual 101

  • Try not to show through your facial expression, words, or actions (e.g. hand movement which implies to talk quicker) that you are sympathizing with their circumstance, feel they are talking too slow, or that they should speak faster.
  • This may add on to their consciousness towards their stuttering. Just look and treat them normally like you would to any other person. Give the individual more time to vocalize out his thoughts, as he may take longer than a normal person.
  • Try not to fill in their words when they have long pauses, cause they would want to be able to finish their words by their own means, even if it means taking more time than a normal person.

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mangahelpers

  • It would not be helpful to assume that the person is unprepared, nervous, or not confident. Judge the person’s content, without letting his or her fluency in speaking undermine it.
  • It is with good intentions to suggest how the person can improve on his stuttering. But before doing that, it will be better to ask the person on the topic itself, or read up on what causes stuttering, or effective ways to cope with stuttering.
  • This will allow you to have a more comprehensive understanding of stuttering and correct any misconceptions e.g. certain methods to prevent stuttering may not be applicable to all – before suggesting to the person what they can do about it. Because after all, the stuttering individuals themselves would have a better understanding of their condition.

“Stuttering can be improved or controlled, but it may not be something that can be fully cured or stopped.”

“Stuttering neither has a direct link, nor is it a cause of nervousness and stress in any ways.”

Individuals with severe levels of stuttering will often face daily judgements or mockery from society. As such, I hope we can be more aware, empathetic and understanding to the conditions of such individuals in regards to our perceptions and actions 🙂

Informative Reads:

BoiseHealth.com: Basic information on stuttering

Powerpoint slides on Stuttering

The Asian Parent: What can parents do?

Health Xchange: Questions on Stuttering and Voice Disorders

Developmental Stuttering (Texas Childcare 2011)

Stuttering Therapy Resources

Resources for Speech Therapy for children/adults (Assessment/intervention):

BubbleBee Speech Therapy Centre   

The Speech Pathology Centre 

Total Communication  

Speech Matters The Speech Practice

A Million Things To Say – The Stuttering & Voice Clinic 

Planet Learning Centre

Stravantis   

Speak – The Speech Therapy Centre 

 Leo Magan 

 Little Chatter Box   

Olive Tree   

Therapy Alliance

 Happy Talk   

 Edunamics   

Life Speech   

Singapore General Hospital   

KK Women’s and Children Hospital

Written by: Cass

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Featured images credits:  Paris Chia Photography (website), @Instagram@Facebook

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