What Everyone Should Know About Stuttering

What is stuttering?
Stuttering is defined as an involuntary break in fluency consisting of repetitions, prolongations, and/or blocks (struggle-filled stoppages of sound). Stuttering may be accompanied by secondaries (things someone does to help get the word out).

What causes stuttering?
Stuttering is a neurodevelopmental disorder, with both genetic and neurological components.

Is there a cure?
There is currently no cure for stuttering.

How many people stutter?
There are more than 70 million people in the world that stutter and 3 million in the United States.

Is it helpful to finish the person’s sentence?
Some people find it helpful when others finish their sentence, but many want to finish it themselves. This may mean having to wait a few seconds for them to say the word even though you know exactly what they are intending to say. A person who stutters knows exactly what he/she wants to say; it’s just physically stuck, like someone holding their hands to your throat making it impossible for you to get words out. If you are not sure how to react when someone is in a block, just ask!

Should I maintain eye contact with the person while they are stuttering? I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.
It is polite to maintain eye contact with others as they speak, and there should be no exception for someone who stutters. One of the first skills we practice in therapy is eye contact because it helps increase confidence, decrease mind reading, and is a good communication strategy. Many listeners break eye contact with the person who stutters for fear of making them uncomfortable. But breaking eye contact may send the vibe that you are uncomfortable with the stuttering.

But what if the person breaks eye contact with me?
People who stutter will often break eye contact when they are in a disfluency. Maintain eye contact with the person who stutters, even if the person themselves breaks eye contact. This helps let the person who stutters know that when they are ready to practice eye contact, they have a supportive person who is listening to them and comfortable with their disfluencies.

I become disfluent when I’m nervous or under time pressure. Does this mean I stutter?
It is common for people to have disfluencies when they are nervous, in high stress situations, or experiencing time pressure. You might hear fillers (ums, uhs, like), prolongations, or revisions. What you will not hear, however, is blocking. Blocks, or complete stoppages of sound, are a characteristic that differentiates stuttering from normal disfluencies. This produces a feeling of loss of control, which you will rarely see in a person who does not stutter.