Category Archives: Stuttering

Obstacles to Fluent Speech

Reference: Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists  Sept. 19, 2011

Stuttering affects 3 million Americans and four times as many men as women.  Approximately 5 percent of young children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more.  The majority recover by late childhood, leaving only about 1 percent with a long-term stutter.

Adolescent and adult stutterers have a different awareness of the disorder as a result of a lifetime of disfluency.  Of particular interest to Courtney Byrd, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, College of Communication, at the University of Texas in Austin, is seeing if the unique behaviors she has identified in young children at the onset of stuttering persist into adulthood.

Learning how stutterers select and organize the sounds they use to make words helps researchers identify the obstacles that result in stuttering and develop therapies to overcome them.  In the Developmental Stuttering Lab, which she established at the college five years ago, Dr. Byrd and her team of graduate and undergraduate students evaluate how typically developing presechoolers acquire language and learn how to put sounds together fluently.  These evaluations range from observing parents laying and talking with their children, to analyzing characteristics of disfluent speech, to measuring speech fluency as a child describes a picture, to asking children to identify words based on partial sounds.  The data are used to create benchmarks against which to compare children who stutter and pinpoint the breakdown in fluency.

Children who stutter take longer to select sounds because they are not efficiently organized, which means stuttering is not strictly motoric, or a speech behavior, but there is a linguistic component as well, Dr. Byrd’s research suggests.

Up until about age 2-and-a-half, she said, children’s speech consists of a constellation of unrelated but familiar words, such a mommy, daddy, baby, milk,  and book.  During a vocabulary growth spurt by age 3, they start to organize language into global syllable shapes, or neighborhoods, of words that differ by only one individual sound segment, such as back, bath, bag, bad, and bat.

“This global syllable shape selection strategy enables 3-year-olds to efficiently organize and access their limited vocabulary,” said Dr. Byrd.  “However, by age 5 an expanded vocabulary compounded by faster utterances and longer, more complex phrases makes it inefficient for typically developing children to rely on this strategy.  In fact, it inhibits their ability to produce speech fluently.”

In contrast to typically developing children and adults, she said, “‘my research has shown both children and adults who stutter continue to rely on the global syllable shape organization system, which is inefficient and slows their ability to access the individual sound segments that represent the words they’re trying to say.  The outcome is what we perceive as stuttered speech.”

She hopes her research will lead to the identification of key etiological factors that could be used to transform treatment.  “But stuttering is a complex disorder,” she said.  “It waxes and wanes, and its origins are unclear.”

“While we work with clients to improve their fluency through speech therapy, we also give them practical coping mechanisms.  For example, the simple act of self-disclosure can ease the burden and make the stutterer and others feel comfortable,” Dr. Byrd stated.

Finding Therapy Through Acting

Reference: Pediastaff Inc Pediatric and School Based Discussion Group April 20, 2011

According to the dictionary, a stutter can be defined as “distorted speech characterized principally by blocks or spasms interrupting rhythm.”  In the U.S. alone, over three million people are affected by this disorder says the Stuttering Foundation of America.  While this may be a reason for some to be shy or anti-social, often times this isn’t the case.  Many other people find ways to overcome this impairment.  Through classes, practice and other methods they prevent this from hinering their lives.  You probably wouldn’t think that theater and acting would be a potential solution; but one student here at Fredonia found this worked for him. 

Senior acting major Matt Nersinger of Webster, NY may be known for his stage roles but at one time his stutter defined him.  Since childhood, Matt struggled with a speech impediment that he wouldn’t address until late middle school.

Growing up, Matt never thought he would be an actor.  He assumed that his impairment would keep him down and prevent him from this art, or as he puts it, “I couldn’t even talk or form a sentence at the time.”  Before he discovered the stage, he admittedly didn’t think theater was for him and even mocked the art.

It wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he got his first stage experience, sort of.  He decided to join his friends on stage crew for his school’s fall production.  This behind the scenes experience changed his attitude toward the stage for the better.  The upperclassman actors of the show treated him very kindly even as a younger crew member.  This kindness convinced him to try out for the school’s spring show.

This opportunity really broke him out of his shell.  Before this he rarely ever wanted to even talk to others, in fear of his stutter getting in the way.  While being on stage made him nervous, knowing what he was going to say helped him not fumble his words.  A combination of his speech therapy and acting roles allowed him to do this.

Another concept that helped Matt was the simple act of singing.  He figured out that when he sang his words he didn’t stutter as much and was more fluent.  This prompted him to puruse singing throughout his high school years.   He saw this as a type of “therapy” for his impediment.  There were times when he even sang within his household, although, “my sister hated that, she’d be like stop singing,” he said.

You might be wondering why he went to school for acting if he was more interested in singing.  It began senior year when he developed what he called calluses on his throat, similar to ones you would get on your feet or hands.  This prevented him from singing and even talking for a period of time.  He eventually dropped the idea for the sake of his voice and concentrated on his acting skills.

When choosing potential colleges for his acting future Matt didn’t take much time to look.  He became familiar with Fredonia through visits he made with friends while in high school.  “I didn’t really put the needed time into college searching,” Matt said.  While he somewhat regrets not looking more into this, he sees Fredonia as a blessing in disguise.

He started as a theater major and instantly fell in love with the program.  “People are what make this school,” he said.  “They are just so nice, welcoming, accommodating and accepting.  I was always terrified of auditioning because I would just get very nervous.  When my nerves, go, I start to stutter and that makes me more nervous,” Matt said.  Overcoming his stutter to get into the theater program was one of many steps he took toward self-improvement.

Aside from his stage roles, Matt is involved in other activities on campus as well.  He has been involved in another performance group, the Guerillas, for a few years now.  Since high school, he always wanted to be involved in an a capella group.  His time with the group has allowed him to expand his performance skills and utilize his previous passion of music.  He’s also a member of Alpha Psi Omega, an upperclassman honor society for theater students.  Another resource Matt utilized to help his speech is the Youngerman Center.  This on-campus speech clinic offers therapy to those who inquire.  At first he was not interested in this prospect.  “I did not want to think of my stutter as a handicap,” he said.  He slowly changed this view after his fluency began to take a tumble.

By his junior year he finally decided to inquire.  He made an appointment with one of their specialists and started the process of speech recovery.  These classes acted as a “refresher” course for him.  Combined with his theater lessons, he created his own sort of speech therapy.  One of his future missions is to open a theater therapy clinic to further assist those with stutters and impairments as a way to give back to the art that helped him so much.

Stuttering Treatment

A researcher at Michigan State University, East Lansing, is hopeful that a recent grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders will lead to the development of better treatment options for children who stutter. 

Chang, PhD,CCC-SLP, assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders, will use the $1.8 million grant to conduct a five-year longitudinal study on brain development in children who stutter.  She and colleagues will begin following the children’s development when they are between ages 4 and 6.  The goal is to find clues that explain how stuttering differs between males and females.

“Previous studies have shown that girls are more likely to recover from childhood stuttering,” Dr. Chang said.  “We know that at 2 to 4 years of age, boys and girls stutter more equally.  For some reason, there’s a change that occurs when they are 4-6 years old.  The girls start to recover within about two years, and often boys do not.”

She will study brain scans of the children to see whether development differs between genders to enable some to recover and others to go on to have chronic stuttering for the rest of their lives.

“This work will hopefully change the face of stuttering diagnosis and treatment,” she said.  “It’s the first series of studies to identify neural reasons for early childhood stuttering and gender differences that lead to recovery or persistence of stuttering.” 

Stuttering effects approximately 5 percent of children during the early stages of speech acquisition.  Many children recover naturally, but some do not, leaving about 1 percent of the population with chronic developmental stuttering.

“This is a speech disorder that is notoriously difficult to treat,” Dr. Chang said.  It can be debilitating for some people who might experience social or occupational rejection.

“There is a misperception that stuttering is caused by anxiety, that it is behavioral,” she stated.  “In the vast majority of cases, stuttering is not due to a psychiatric condition or low IQ.  We have strong evidence now that stuttering is caused by subtle neural deficits that disrupt interactions between different parts of the brain that are critical for fluid speech production.”

Her interest in the research comes from her training as a speech-language pathologist.  Her doctoral and postdoctoral research allowed her to conduct brain-imaging studies using MRI on children and adults who stutter.  Now she’s hoping to take stuttering research to a new level to help parents and children.

“Parents will be able to see their child’s brain growth in this study, and they will be contributing to treatment solutions for people who stutter,”  she said.  “We expect to learn more about the causes of this speech disorder and better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat it.”

The researchers are seeking participants for the study.  Parents who decide to participate can receive payment to offset time involved and to help with transportation costs.  In addition, the research team provides speech, language, hearing and IQ testing at no cost.  Children will be able to take home a picture of their brain.  The team will explain all procedures, including tests, risks and benefits.

Parents who have a child between the ages of 3 to 8 who stutters can obtain information about the study by calling (517) 884-2257 or (517) 432-1264.

This article posted in ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists on Dec. 1, 2010.

New Phone Relay Service

A new free relay service allows people with speech and voice disorders to place telephone calls using their own voices or augmentative and alternative communication devices.

The speech-to-speech (STS) relay system is provided by the Federal Communication Commission.  It was created by Speech Communication Assistance by Telephone, Inc., a nonprofit founded by Robert Segalman, whose cerebral-palsy-related voice difficulties hamper his ability to communicate by telephone.

STS allows a person to speak with a communiction assistant, who revoices the words of the caller for the person on the other end of the call.  Assistants are specially trained to understand the speech of callers with a variety of conditions affecting clarity of speech, including cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, stuttering, laryngectomy, and stroke.

For more informatrion about STS, visit

When I tried to visit the above website, it said to check back soon.  Hopefully it will be available soon.