How to stop stuttering (for kids and adults)
Updated: Mar 26
I once had a student that compared stuttering to playing chess. He described that making "one wrong move" may cause him to stutter and that speaking, for him, was all about strategy.
According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, over 3 million individuals in the United States stutter and over 80 million people worldwide stutter.
Stuttering is often described as the physical disruptions in a person’s speech. These physical disruptions often turn into a more complex communication disorder that can involve avoiding certain speaking situations, poor self-confidence and self-worth, and so much more.
Many people ask me how to cure stuttering. This is not an easy question to tackle because the answer really is...it depends...
In this article, I explain:
Stutter vs Stammer. What’s the difference?
Stuttering and stammering are both the same thing. Stuttering is predominantly used by American English speakers and Stammering is predominantly used by British English speakers.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a neurologically-based disorder which impairs an individual’s ability to time and sequence the physical movements necessary for speech.
Over time, this underlying impairment results in primary stuttering behaviors that include:
Blocks (hard time getting a sound out)
Repetitions of words, syllables, sounds
Prolongations (drawing out a sound)
Oftentimes this will cause secondary behaviors such as:
Circumlocutions (saying they want a pen because they know they will stutter on the word “pencil”)
What causes stuttering? Let’s debunk those myths!
Myth: Stuttering is genetic 99% of the time.
Truth: Some stuttering is genetic.
Stuttering therapy can improve fluency; however, stuttering therapy does not change your genes…therefore we know it cannot all be genetic.
Truth: Neurogenic stuttering results from damage or injury to the brain. Examples include: head trauma, stroke, tumors, degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Truth: Psychogenic stuttering is rare and results from extreme trauma or stress.
Truth: Other causes of stuttering are largely unknown, perhaps caused from events that take place that are not good for the central nervous system. Examples include:
Low birth weight
Failure for the baby to breathe at the time of delivery (perinatal hypoxia)
Can I fix my stuttering?
It really depends…
This question has a lot of components to it so below I’ve answered some of the questions I receive.
Can my child get rid of their stutter?
There is an increased chance of stuttering recovery for young children. As children get older, the likelihood of recovery tends to decrease. By around 6-8 years of age, the likelihood of continued stuttering is greater. That does not mean that all hope is lost. Your child can still communicate fluently.
There are three programs that are often used for young children:
The Lidcombe Program is a behavioral treatment for children. This form of therapy uses a combination of therapy sessions and parental day-to-day observations to ultimately either remove the stutter entirely or reach an extremely low level.
The RESTART DCM program uses less-direct means of reducing demands on a child’s speech while working on expanding capacities in order to support more fluent speech.
The Palin Parent-Child Interaction Therapy involves helping parents identify stressors in the child’s environment. They are taught to spend one-on-one time with their child on a regular basis during which they can enjoy the interaction with the child while exploring fluency-facilitating modifications in the environment.
The Lidcombe Program and RESTART DCM both show similar success rates, while the Palin Parent-Child Interaction Therapy requires more research.
Will singing help get rid of my stuttering?
No. Singing and practicing singing will not improve your fluency (if you like to sing though, there is no reason to stop). The reason why most people who stutter don’t stutter when they sing is because they bypass a particular loop for speech in the brain.
While singing does not improve stuttering, there are very impressive singers that stutter! Amanada Mammana is one example.
Can speech therapy help with stuttering?
Speech therapy can help a child or adult learn techniques to both improve their fluency and feel confident speaking in class or a meeting.
Stuttering techniques are like all other techniques in life, though.
For example, I can teach you how to swing a baseball bat (I can teach you how to grip the bat and how to position yourself…), but you’re not going to always hit a home run. There are important factors to keep in mind…
Sometimes you may strike out, other times you may hit a foul ball.
Some people also have the capacity to be better batters than others. You may try just as hard as the other person, but you have less capacity to be a good batter.
Finally, some people may practice the technique more than others and therefore are better at batting altogether.
The same applies to stuttering. Success is a combination of technique, practice, natural skill and personal motivation.
Will medication help get rid of my stutter?
As of this blog being posted, there is no FDA-approved medication for the treatment of stuttering. A study was done where individuals were asked to read out loud by themselves. People who stuttered had 200% more dopamine in a particular part of their brain (called the striatum) than those who did not stutter. It is believed that dopamine has something to do with stuttering in the brain. Dopamine blockers have confirmed efficacy for reducing stuttering, but this medication is, as of now, not approved to treat stuttering!
My child already receives speech therapy in school, does she/he need to go to a private speech therapist?
This is a great question! As someone who worked in two different school systems, one in Vermont and two in New York City, I want to give you an example of a typical speech therapy session.
8:00-8:30 AM: Kaila (issues with reading comprehension), Neil (has a lisp), Jose (difficulty producing the /l/, /r/, /p/ sound), Nora (stutters) are all assigned the same speech session
My activity for this session is to give the students an article (to account for Kaila’s reading comprehension issue) containing many /r/, /l/, /p/, and /s/ sounds (to account for Neil and Jose’s speech production difficulty)
The reading has to be split between Neil, Jose, and Nora.
This way I ensure Neil and Jose can work on their sounds and Nora can work on her confidence with reading a passage while stuttering in front of a small group of students.
I end the session with Kaila answering questions about the story.
My aim for this half hour session is to ensure each of these students get 7.5 minutes each of my attention (a total of 30 minutes).
If Nora is getting speech therapy 2x/week in a group of 4, she will in essence be getting a total of 15 minutes of treatment.
So while speech therapy in school is very important, unfortunately kids often do not get the one-on-one time they need to focus on the specific speech challenges they face. Group therapy can be very helpful for children to practice with peers, but depending on the speech challenges a child faces and their personality it can be more intimidating and embarrassing for the child to have to practice their vulnerabilities in front of other students.
Expert tips for parents of children who stutter
Maintain eye contact and an appearance of relaxation during all speaking moments
Therefore they feel you are listening and focused on what is being said (not how it is being said).
Do not make the word "stuttering" a taboo word in your home
Talk about stuttering like any other difficulty that a child may have (just like you would talk about asthma or difficulty with reading comprehension). Allow your child to express their own feelings about stuttering. This creates an aura that will be far less shameful for them.
Avoid interrupting your child while they speak
Children have a lot they may want to say so avoid interrupting them or finishing their sentences.
Slow your own speech down
Try to avoid cliché (although well-meaning) advice like: “relax,” “take a deep breath,” “think before you speak,” or “slow down.” Parents can slow down their own rate of speech by inserting pauses during every few words while speaking. The goal is for your child to hear you and in turn, slow down their own speech.
Expert tips to improve fluency for an adult
You can go online and find many techniques to use during a moment of stuttering. Oftentimes, having so many different techniques at your fingertips seems very useful, but the reality is bombarding yourself with every technique that ever existed may make you feel less at ease than when you had no techniques. My recommendation is to work with a Speech-Language Pathologist, and use the techniques that work best for you.
Below I have highlighted two useful techniques that have been used successfully by many of my clients.
Reducing the rate of speech and inserting a pause in between phrases, after sentences, and wherever feels natural
Why? Have you ever lifted a 50-pound dumbbell with both arms? What happens as the weight of that dumbbell increases to 100, 200, 300, etc (don’t try this at home!)? At some point, your arms will get shaky, and eventually, if you’re not careful, that dumbbell will fall. The heavier the load you place in your arms, the harder it is going to be for you to lift. The more words you want to say in 15 seconds, the more difficult it can be to produce those words fluently. By pausing, you are giving your speech muscles a break before they have to produce more words.
If you pause after each syllable in a word, it is likely you will have improved fluency. This method of speech is likely going to call attention to itself in professional or social settings. There are; however, ways to reduce the rate of speech which are less noticeable.
Reducing the volume at the beginning of speech
Why? Have you ever gone to a gym class and they had you start running from the get go? I don’t know about the gym classes you go to, but my kickboxing classes always start off with an easier warmup.
When you start speaking, instead of speaking as loud as you typically do (which requires a lot of effort and pressure on the vocal folds), speak lower. Gradually increase your volume.
Speech therapy with me
As a speech-language pathologist treating stuttering, my job is to listen to what you are telling me and what you want from me, both in and out of therapy.
Someone who speaks and doesn't stutter has a goal to be clearly understood by others while speaking. This goal may be different for a person who stutters where sometimes the main goal is not to be understood, but the goal is to not stutter. I hope I can change this for you or your loved one.
I have often found the most helpful goal to work towards is allowing those who stutter to participate fully in their lives by:
Improving fluency and management of stuttering behaviors
Reducing negative reactions (like tension, struggle, and avoidance)
Improving communication attitudes
Reducing activity limitation
Reducing adverse impact from stuttering
I have had many past and current clients who stutter who had bad speech therapy experiences in the past and I hope that does not hold you back from reaching out if you need help. Schedule a free consultation if you want to learn more about how I can help you or your loved one.
About the author
Stephanie Jeret is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the owner of Speak with Stephanie. She obtained her Bachelor's and Master's degree from the City University of New York. She has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including outpatient rehabilitation, telepractice, skilled nursing facilities, and schools. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including articulation disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders and fluency disorders.