How stuttering affects communication

Stuttering is not due to shyness or being unsure of oneself. Fear of stuttering makes it harder to speak freely and spontaneously. Communication can be affected in significant ways. Again, not everyone is affected in the same way or to similar extents. 

Persons who stutter are aware that their communication takes up time. This is confirmed when listeners try to help them by finishing sentences, try to guess the word they are trying to say, give advice on how to talk, tell them to “spit it out” or hurry up, interrupt, or ignore them. Persons who stutter may consequently cut back on how much they say. That is, they will say less than they truly have to say or want to say.

Severe stuttering can affect speech rate to the point that it falls well below what is typical for non-stuttering individuals. A person who does not stutter might say three or four times as many words as a person with significant stuttering, in the same amount of time. 

The desire to speak more quickly creates time pressure for the person who stutters. Rushing to speak aggravates stuttering, making it harder to talk, and further slowing down communication.   

Stuttering can be exhausting for some individuals. It can feel like they just ran a marathon. 

Stuttering is Variable and Hard to Predict

Stuttering is variable. There are times when it is more pronounced and times when it almost seems to disappear. These changes can occur over short periods or for longer periods of time. There may be day to day variability, variability within the day, and variability based on speaking tasks. Stuttering will even vary for the same or similar speaking task. 

Variability also applies to young children who are in the early stages of stuttering development. Parents are surprised when their children begin to stutter again after a period of stutter-free speech. It is not uncommon for parents to report that stuttering comes and goes. For some children, stuttering is more consistent. 

For older persons who stutter, speech variability can be affected by a complex interaction of external and internal factors. External factors might relate to who the listener is in relation to the person who stutters, the listener’s attitude or impatience towards stuttering. The number of listeners can also make a difference, and the environment in which communication takes place. A person who stutters will feel pressure to hurry so listeners don’t have to wait as long. Fatigue and emotions, such as nervousness or excitement, can make it harder for some older children and adults who stutter to speak. 

It may be hard for listeners to understand why a person doesn’t stutter in the same way all of the time. The variability is also confusing and frustrating for the person who stutters, who can’t predict what stuttering will be like at a particular time, or if it will happen.

Stuttering is Not Tied to Specific Vowels, Consonants and Words

While some adults who stutter report that certain sounds are more “difficult” to say, research has found no evidence of this when comparing stuttered words and speech sounds across individuals. Early stuttering tends to happen at the beginning of sentences; however, as stuttering progresses, stuttering can occur on almost any word in a sentence, and sometimes on multiple words. As word fears develop, the anticipation of difficulty for specific words or speech sounds may bring the person to physically tense and stutter. As a person repeatedly stutters on the same sound or word, the sound or word becomes an automatic trigger for stuttering. 

Stuttering Decreases or Disappears Under Certain Conditions

Stuttering reduces or vanishes under certain conditions. For example, when a person sings or whispers, speaks alone in a room, with an accent, or in time to a rhythm, speaks or reads at the same time as another person, or repeats what another person just said. Acting can also reduce or eliminate stuttering. These do not always apply to everyone and are not considered useful or reasonable strategies for managing stuttering or for speech therapy. 

Last updated: January 3, 2022