Fluency refers to a speaker’s ability to demonstrate smooth, connected speech with natural intonation and pausing. Fluency disorders, or stuttering, occur when an individual has a hard time executing the movements needed to create this smooth speech.
Disfluencies can be separated into two categories: more typical and less typical. These categories help us identify what types of fluency issues may be present, and whether these indicate a need for therapy.
More typical disfluencies are those that many speakers produce fairly frequently. After all, no one speaks perfectly fluently all of the time. Examples include whole word repetitions, restarting a sentence, or rephrasing. We naturally all demonstrate some of these more typical disfluencies as we deal with challenges in formulating what we want to say, planning the motor movements for the message, and executing. When kids or speakers demonstrate a very high frequency of these more typical disfluencies, it can be an indication of an underlying fluency or language disorder.
Less typical disfluencies include speech behaviors like single sound repetitions (for example, “b-b-baby”), blocks (when the speaker gets stuck on the first sound of the word and is silent for a moment), or prolongations (when the sound gets extended for longer than it should). The presence of these less typical disfluencies are what we associate with stuttering, and presence of these types of speech behaviors can mean that a speaker would benefit from speech therapy.
Some young kids go through a period of development when they exhibit frequent examples of both more and less typical disfluencies. This is often around the same time that language skills are exploding around age 2 or 3, and kids seem to not be able to make their mouth keep up with their mind. There’s a disconnect between what they want to say and how efficiently they’re able to say it, and the resulting presentation is a phase of stuttering behavior. Therapy typically isn’t recommended for these children because we expect them to outgrow the speech behavior. If a few of the following is true about a child, we might recommend starting therapy:
- The child was older than three years when the stuttering started
- The child is demonstrating regular occurrences of the less typical disfluencies
- The child has a family history of stuttering
- The child seems anxious or stressed when the stuttering occurs, or starts demonstrating avoidance of certain speaking situations or words, or has other behaviors that present alongside the stuttering, like eye blinking or facial grimacing.
Starting therapy early when stuttering concerns arise is one of the best ways to help kids master easy, smooth talking. For older kids and adults, there are many strategies that speakers can learn to help them feel confident when communicating and learn how to feel in control of their speech when instances of stuttering occur. Reach out today to talk about any questions you may have regarding speech therapy for stuttering concerns!