Stuttering – A Listener's Guide

The causes of stuttering are unknown. The evidence to date suggests that stuttering is a neurological problem affecting speech production. There is no evidence that the causes are emotional or psychological. There is no evidence that stutterers share particular personality characteristics.

Will the King’s Speech lead to a change in public attitudes about people who stutter? At this point, we don’t know. Research is now under way to determine the answer to that question.

Perhaps the most salient feature of stuttering is the avoidance of speaking situations. When we stop speaking, we remove ourselves from the mainstream of life. Stuttering affects about one percent of the adult population – about 340,000 Canadians. About five percent of young children stutter during the years they are learning to speak. More boys are affected than girls. Most young children outgrow their stuttering – but some do not.

Our advice to parents is that if your child stutters, you should seek assessment by a speech therapist who specializes in the treatment of stuttering. For preschoolers, effective programs are available, such as the Lidcombe Program.

A database of speech therapists, from across Canada, who are trained in the Lidcombe Program, is available at the website of the Montreal Fluency Centre at Montreal Fluency-dot-com.

What can you, as a fluent person, do when speaking with a stutterer?

  • Use natural eye contact and facial gestures to show you're listening.
  • Look the person in the eye every once in a while, even when that person is struggling with words. That tells us we are still part of the human race.
  • Give the person enough time to finish his or her own sentences.
  • Use a relaxed pace in your own speech, but not so slow as to sound unnatural.
  • Avoid remarks like “slow down” or “take a deep breath.” Such advice is not helpful.

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