Fluency disorders affect the natural flow of speech. The best know fluency disorder is stuttering. Usually, the symptoms of developmental stuttering first appear between the ages of 2½ and 4 years. About 75% of preschoolers who begin to stutter will eventually stop.
Stuttering is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.” Most people produce brief disfluencies from time to time. Observable signs include frequent hesitation in speech, getting stuck on certain words, repetition of sounds or words in oral reading or in conversation, avoidance of certain words in conversation, substitution of words, over-use of gestures, or reluctance to speak.
Stuttered speech often includes repetitionsof words or parts of words, as well as prolongationsof speech sounds. These disfluencies occur more often in persons who stutter than they do in the general population. Some people who stutter appear very tense or “out of breath” when talking. Speech may become completely stopped or blocked. Blocked is when the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming. After some effort, the person may complete the word. Interjections such as “um” or “like” can occur, as well, particularly when they contain repeated (“u- um- um”) or prolonged (“uuuum”) speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to “get stuck on.”
Some examples of stuttering include:
“W- W- W- Where are you going?” (Part-word repetition: The person is having difficulty moving from the “w” in “where” to the remaining sounds in the word. On the fourth attempt, he successfully completes the word.)
“SSSS ave me a seat.” (Sound prolongation: The person is having difficulty moving from the “s” in “save” to the remaining sounds in the word. He continues to say the “s” sound until he is able to complete the word.)
“I’ll meet you – um um you know like – around six o’clock.” (A series of interjections: The person expects to have difficulty smoothly joining the word “you” with the word “around.” In response to the anticipated difficulty, he produces several interjections until he is able to say the word “around” smoothly.)
For young children, it is important to predict whether the stuttering is likely to continue. An evaluation consists of a series of tests, observations, and interviews designed to estimate the child’s risk for continuing to stutter. Although there is some disagreement among SLPs about which risk factors are most important to consider, factors that are noted by many specialists include the following:
a family history of stuttering
stuttering that has continued for 6 months or longer
presence of other speech or language disorders
strong fears or concerns about stuttering on the part of the child or the family
Most treatment programs for people who stutter are “behavioral.” They are designed to teach the person specific skills or behaviors that lead to improved oral communication. For instance, many SLPs teach people who stutter to control and/or monitor the rate at which they speak. In addition, people may learn to start saying words in a slightly slower and less physically tense manner. They may also learn to control or monitor their breathing. When learning to control speech rate, people often begin by practicing smooth, fluent speech at rates that are much slower than typical speech, using short phrases and sentences. Over time, people learn to produce smooth speech at faster rates, in longer sentences, and in more challenging situations until speech sounds both fluent and natural. “Follow-up” or “maintenance” sessions are often necessary after completion of formal intervention to prevent relapse.