The honest truth is that there is no cure to stuttering.
By its very nature, stuttering is cyclical – meaning it can (and probably will) come and go. You can learn tricks that might even make it go away for a time, but these tricks take a lot of mental effort. And some of these tricks come with a massive price tag!
If you are not a person who stutters, imagine I told you that you needed to speak with a foreign accent for the rest of your life in order to be a good communicator.
That’s what it’s like to have to use fluency strategies all the time. It’s hard to do and it doesn’t sound natural.
Sometimes we’ve got stuttering all wrong
People who don’t stutter do stumble on their words from time to time. I am not a stutterer. But sometimes I speak disfluently. Maybe I’m nervous or feeling insecure. Maybe I don’t know exactly what I want to say and can’t think of the right word. Or maybe I’m just really excited and the words are coming out faster than my mouth can keep up.
The thing is, that’s not what it’s like to actually stutter. Yes, people who stutter might also stumble on their words when they are feeling that way, just like anybody else. But they also stutter when they are relaxed and comfortable. They stutter when they know exactly what they want to say and the exact word they want to use.
The problem is that people who don’t stutter automatically assign those feelings of insecurity or even incompetence on people who do stutter because that’s the emotional connection we have experienced in connection with stuttering.
I have seen grown adults treat other adults who stutter like they are incompetent because they stutter.
The words are just getting stuck. And it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or even emotional status.
It’s not that some people are just strong enough or rich enough to “overcome” their stutter. It just doesn’t always go away, no matter what you try.
If there’s no cure to stuttering, how can we actually make a difference?
So, if there’s no cure to stuttering, and people who don’t stutter carry all these negative stereotypes, what can we do to support people who stutter?
Some people try the strategies and maybe they find something that works for them when they really need it.
Some people just avoid all of those words that they are likely to stutter on. They just have to live with never actually saying what they really mean.
There is a problem, but it’s not the one you think.
It starts with stuttering acceptance.
Sometimes people stutter. Their words get stuck. It’s ok, they’ll keep trying and it will come.
People who don’t stutter can learn to be better listeners, gain understanding, and empathy.
Ok, but what can we do in speech therapy?
Ok, ok, so I’m saying that he problem is not the person who stutters, but everyone else.
But, SLPs don’t get to work with people who don’t stutter and carry negative stereotypes. We only get to work with the people who stutter.
Maybe we don’t have the cure to stuttering, but we can work to overcome and manage negative emotions like anxiety and fear.
This is what we can do:
Teach Self-Disclosure Statements
Teach students how to make a non-apologetic self-disclosure statement. “Yeah, sometimes I stutter, which is when my words get stuck for a second. You can just give me a minute to get it out.”
The self-disclosure statement should be personal and matter-of-fact.
Having a self-disclosure statement helps relieve anxiety and anticipation for the person who stutters because now they don’t have to live in fear of the moment when their speech gets out of their control. Plus, it’s good for the listener to hear because now they understand a little better and won’t feel confused or uncomfortable when the other person stutters.
Intentionally stuttering gives the speaker a chance to stutter in a situation that they can actually control. This control is huge – it can help desensitize actual moments of stuttering and reduce the fear and anxiety that come with anticipating a stuttering moment.
It’s important to intentionally stutter in a way that closely mimics the way the speaker actually stutters.
Encourage your students to intentionally stutter in various environments with different people. Encourage them to try something hard, knowing that it will help them overcome their fear.
As an SLP, you should occasionally intentionally stutter so you know what you’re asking your students to do when you ask them to intentionally stutter. It can be hard to try it. But hopefully, when you do, it won’t actually be a big deal. Or maybe you will intentionally stutter to someone who does not handle it well and then you’ll get a tiny glimpse of empathy into the lives of your students.
Empowerment through Education
We need to make sure that our kids know, from a young age, that they stutter and that’s ok.
We can do this by teaching facts and myths about stuttering. Let them know that they aren’t alone and that lots of smart, successful, and even famous people stutter.
My Mega Fluency Packet includes myths and facts for teaching some of the big ones.
You can also find some great resources at the Stuttering Foundation’s website.
The more our students know about stuttering, the more they can share with other people, and hopefully help encourage a more understanding and accepting society.
Good Communication Skills: The Alternative Cure to Stuttering
People who have good conversation and presentation skills are better communicators. Period.
This applies to people who stutter and people who don’t stutter.
When someone who stutters uses good eye contact, volume, and body positioning, their conversational partners don’t notice stuttering as much.
What’s more, people who stutter also don’t notice their stutter as much when they learn to be confident, competent communicators.
The Final Word on Strategies
There is a time and place for teaching fluency shaping and modification strategies. I highlight quite a few of them in my Mega Fluency Packet.
There may be times in a person’s life when they want to be as fluent as possible, such as in a job interview or when giving a presentation.
SLP Stephen is a person who stutters and an SLP and he talks about this in a guest post he wrote for me! To summarize, he explains that we don’t want to overcompensate and just talk about feelings in fluency therapy. In fact, from his own experience, he still recommends that SLPs start with strategies and move to intentional stuttering and self-disclosure statements. I love that I can trust what he is talking about and that he has shared his experiences with the SLP profession.
These strategies are worth knowing, but we shouldn’t be expecting our students to use them all the time.
There might not be a cure to stuttering, but SLPs can still help! Stuttering can be tricky for pediatric speech pathologists and I believe a lot of that has to do with limited exposure (how many students who stutter do you have on your caseload right now?) and limited education. I know I didn’t learn a ton of practical knowledge about stuttering during grad school!
So below are some resources that have helped me become a confident, knowledgeable therapist in the area of stuttering!
First, if you’re wanting to learn more about stuttering, especially first hand accounts from people who stutter themselves, you need to check out the StutterTalk podcast. It’s run by a person who stutters and there are many amazing, educational guest interviews on it! Even just the website is incredibly helpful and worth browsing through.
If you’re looking for an episode to start on, I’d recommend “What I Wish My SLP Knew About Stuttering“.
The Stuttering Foundation
My second favorite resource for learning more about stuttering is The Stuttering Foundation. They recently updated their website and it has tons of free information and resources including videos, free e-books, and a blog. They also offer reasonably priced CEUs related to stuttering!
My Mega Fluency Packet (with visuals!)
Third, I have a stuttering resource in my store that is one of my best sellers. It’s called Mega Fluency Packet and it’s 54 pages of visuals and activities for students that stutter. I used these all the time when I worked with younger students and have found the visuals to be really easy to understand!
Stuttering Therapy Resources
I’ve shared this incredible website before on Instagram but needed to share it here. Stuttering Therapy Resources is a fantastic website that offers a FREE library of printable resources, many of which are also in Spanish!!
I hope you found that helpful! I would love to hear about any valuable resources you have found too!