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Stuttering and Typical Disfluency: How to Differentiate

It is normal for children to experience disfluency, or difficulty speaking, during the early stages of language development. However, if your child continues to stutter beyond a certain age, it may be indicative of a more serious problem. In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between typical disfluency and stuttering. We will also provide tips on how to differentiate between the two. We hope that this information will help you better understand your child's communication development and enable you to seek appropriate treatment if necessary. Read for more!


In this article we will discuss:


Boy who stutters playing in the trampoline

Developmental Disfluencies

Anytime we try to speak, our minds are consumed with a barrage of thoughts and emotions. Whether we are conveying simple information or engaging in an intense debate, there is always a constant stream of words swirling around inside our heads. But while it may seem like these accompanying thoughts occur consciously, the truth is that they typically begin well before any words leave our mouths. In other words, when we try to speak, we tend to think first and then communicate second.


This phenomenon has been extensively studied by psychologists over the years, and there is evidence to suggest that this tendency think first and then speak begins at a very early age. According to one classic study from the 1970s, even 6-month-old infants can be seen doing precisely this: anticipating words before they come out. This suggests that speech isn't just about communicating something; it's also about thinking through what we want to say ahead of time.


Disfluencies can be managed with speech therapy

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At the same time, however, it's important to recognize that not all thoughts are created equal. Some may be fleeting or unimportant - like finding your car keys or wondering where your butter went - while others could be deeper concerns weighing on your mind. And while this process can sometimes lead to awkward pauses or miscommunications, overall it helps us think more carefully and clearly before speaking our minds. So when it comes to trying to express ourselves in speech, perhaps we should slow down and let ourselves do some mental preparation beforehand. After all, as they say: action speaks louder than words!


Because of this, it is normal to experience disfluencies. In fact, every individual has disfluencies in their speech. Disfluency is a term used to describe the normal irregularities that occur during speech. As children learn how to communicate, some will experience developmental disfluency (or brief interruptions in speech) between the ages of 2-5 years old. This is because they are still learning how to produce the sounds of their language accurately and fluently.

Many children have common disfluencies which are developmentally normal and nothing to worry about. Speech therapists believe that as kids learn to create longer sentences with more difficult words, their coordination skills might not be able to keep up with their brainpower. This is most likely because they're also mastering other developmental skill sets (e.g., learning how to walk or use the toilet) around the same time.


What is typical disfluency?

Typical disfluency refers to the normal difficulties that children may have with speaking. This can include repetition of sounds, words, or phrases; pauses in speech; and adding extra sounds like “um” when speaking. Most children will experience some degree of typical disfluency during the early stages of language development.


Speech Characteristics

  • Multisyllabic whole-word and phrase repetitions: "I want to go-go-go to the store"

  • Interjections: "um" or "uh"

  • Revisions: "I want, no I need to go to the store"

Other Behaviors

  • No physical tension or struggle

  • No secondary behaviors

  • No negative reaction or frustration

  • No family history of stuttering

By the time children reach the age of three, they should be able to produce most sounds correctly and their speech should be mostly intelligible. If your child is still displaying signs of disfluency beyond this age, it is important to consult with a speech-language pathologist to rule out stuttering.


A child with disfluencies talking to his friends.

What is Stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech disorder that is characterized by disruptions in the flow of speech. These disruptions can take the form of repetitions, prolongations, or blockages. People who stutter may also exhibit secondary behaviors, such as eye blinking or body tenseness, when they are talking.


Speech Characteristics

  1. Sound or syllable repetitions: "I-I-I want to go to the store."

  2. Prolongations: "rrrriiiiight"

  3. Blockages: "I w-w-want to go to the store."

Other Behaviors

Children who stutter are aware of their disfluencies. Some of them may experience more concerns such as clenching of the fist, rapid eye blinking, or head jerking. This creates tension and frustration which can lead to the avoidance of words or situations that may trigger stuttering. In some cases, children who stutter will only speak in single words to avoid having to deal with the struggle of producing more complex utterances. They anticipate the stutter and this can cause more anxiety. Thus making it even hard for them to be fully understood.


Why do Children or Adults Stutter?

While many people assume that a stutter is a purely physical phenomenon, there is mounting evidence to suggest that this disorder may also be rooted in the mind. Indeed, studies have shown that stutterers often experience relief from their symptoms when they are in a situation where they feel safe and protected, such as when they are alone or with close friends. This seems to indicate that fear and anxiety play a significant role in causing stuttering, as opposed to other factors like muscle tension and irritation of the speech organs. So if you know someone who stutters, offer them your support and kindness not just when they are speaking aloud but also when they are on their own. Their peace of mind will thank you for it.


Stuttering is a problem that many people struggle with on a daily basis. This speech disorder causes people to experience frequent and uncontrollable speech disruptions, or disfluencies, such as repetitions of sounds or words. As a result, this anticipation leads to more disfluencies and further exacerbates the condition over time. Understanding this connection between anticipation and stuttering can help us develop new treatment methods that can better address this common speech problem.


The Difference Between Typical Disfliences and Stuttering

There are a few key ways to differentiate between stuttering and typical disfluency:

  • Stuttering is characterized by disruptions in the flow of speech while typical disfluency does not interfere with the flow of speech.

  • Stuttering is accompanied by secondary behaviors, such as eye blinking or body tenseness, while typical disfluency is not.

  • Stuttering can lead to negative reactions, such as frustration or anger, while typical disfluency does not.

  • If your child has a family history of stuttering, they are more likely to stutter themselves.


Here are a few key ways to differentiate between stuttering and typical disfluency. If caught earlier, speech disfluencies could be helped.


The causes of stuttering and typical disfluency are also different.

Stuttering is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, while typical disfluency is simply a part of normal speech development.


There are multiple things that can cause stuttering. Some examples are:

Family history of stuttering

Genetics plays a big role in whether or not someone will stutter. If you have a family member who stutters, you are more likely to stutter as well.


Neurological problems

Problems with the way the brain works can also cause stuttering. Conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Tourette syndrome can increase the risk of stuttering. This is due to the fact that both of these conditions are associated with problems with the way the brain processes information. Autism Spectrum Disorders can also affect speech and language development and may contribute to stuttering as they develop.


Environmental factors

Certain environmental factors may also contribute to stuttering. These can include things like anxiety or stress, which can lead to a person feeling overwhelmed and unable to speak fluently. Additionally, if a child is raised in a household where there is a lot of arguing or conflict, this can also lead to stuttering.


Adults with stuttering usually have had the disorder since they were children. However, it is possible for adults to develop stuttering later in life. This is most likely to happen after a traumatic event, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one.


Strokes or other brain injuries that damage the part of the brain responsible for language control can lead to neurogenic stuttering. Psychogenic stuttering may be caused by severe emotional trauma. There is also a possibility that if you or your parents stuttered, your children might too because it could be an inherited abnormality

passed down in families.


Baby trying to talk with typical speech disfluencies

Treatment for stuttering and typical disfluency is also different.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for stuttering. However, there are a variety of speech therapy for stuttering options that can help people manage their stutter. Stuttering therapy for typical disfluency is not necessary. It will typically resolve itself as children get older.


Who can help Children's Speech Disfluencies?

Speech-language pathologists can assist with stuttering help. First, they will complete a thorough evaluation to determine if the child has a stutter or typical disfluency. If it is determined that the child has a stutter, the speech-language pathologist will work with the child and their family to develop a treatment plan.


Treatment for Speech Disfluencies

If your child has been diagnosed with stuttering, there are a number of treatment options available. Speech-language therapy is the most common form of treatment and focuses on helping the individual learn techniques to manage their stutter.


Speech Therapy for Speech Disfluencies

The goal of speech-language therapy is to help the individual develop fluency skills and to reduce the negative reactions and avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering. Therapy may be conducted individually, in a group, or with the entire family.


If your child has been diagnosed with speech disfluency, there are a number of stuttering treatment options available. Speech-language therapy is the most common form of treatment and focuses on helping the individual learn techniques to manage their stutter.


The goal of speech-language therapy is to help the individual develop fluency skills and reduce the negative reactions and avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering. Therapy may be conducted individually, in a group, or with the entire family.


Treatment for typical disfluency is not necessary. It will typically resolve itself as children get older. However, if your child is experiencing negative reactions or avoidance behaviors related to their disfluencies, you may want to seek out speech-language therapy to help them cope. Therapy may also focus on helping your child cope with the frustration and anxiety that can be associated with stuttering. This may involve:

  • Identifying situations that trigger stuttering

  • Learning relaxation techniques

  • Building self-confidence


Your child's speech-language pathologist will develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your child's individual needs. If you think your child may be stuttering, consult with a speech-language pathologist. They will be able to assess your child's speech and determine whether or not they are stuttering.


Techniques that may be used in therapy include:


Breathing exercises

Practicing breathing from the stomach rather than the chest. This can help to slow down speech and reduce the effort required to produce speech.


Stretching exercises

These exercises can help to increase the range of motion in the mouth and face which can make it easier to produce speech. Having the articulators and facial muscles in the correct position can also help to reduce the effort required to produce speech.


Fluency-shaping techniques

Fluency shaping is a technique used by speech pathologists to improve the flow and intonation of speech. It involves breaking down certain aspects of speech into smaller units and practicing them in isolation, before combining the units in longer phrases and utterances.


Various fluency shaping techniques can be used, depending on the needs of the individual. Some common examples include prolongation, which involves keeping sounds or syllables longer than usual in order to increase their duration; practice pausing, which involves delaying interjections such as "um" for increased fluency; and reduction techniques, which aim to minimize excess stresses or cluttering in an individual's speech. By using a combination of these techniques, as well as paying close attention to breath support, an individual can greatly improve their fluency and fluidity in speech.

Slow speech production

When speaking at a slow pace, it is important to be very deliberate in your phrasing and pronunciation. This will help ensure that your listeners are able to follow along and understand what you are saying. In addition, taking time to slow down when producing speech can also have other benefits. For example, reducing the pace of your speech gives your listeners more time to reflect on your words, fostering a deeper understanding and critical thinking.


Adult with speech disfluencies trying out slow speech

Slowing down can help you notice small details in your language or inconsistencies in your writing. Overall, making an effort to speak more slowly can be an effective way to improve both the quality and the clarity of your speech production. So if you're looking to become a more effective communicator, try slowing it down!

Other therapy services that can help children or adults with a stutter

Psychologists can help those who stutter with the anxiety and negative emotions that are often associated with the disorder. There are also several support groups available for people who stutter which can provide a sense of community and understanding.

Medication may also be prescribed to help reduce anxiety or other mental health conditions that may be contributing to stuttering.


How to help a child who is struggling with disfluency

If your child is displaying signs of typical disfluency, there are a few things you can do to help them:


Encourage your child to slow down when they are speaking

When children talk slowly, they are less likely to make mistakes and they are better able to organize their thoughts. This can help reduce the frequency of disfluencies.


Help your child take breaks between words or phrases if they need to

If your child is having difficulty saying a word or phrase, encourage them to take a breath between words or phrases. This will help them relax and ease the pressure they may be feeling.


Listen to your child without interrupting

It can be frustrating for children when they are interrupted while they are speaking. Try to resist the urge to finish your child's sentences for them. Instead, let them take their time and finish what they are saying.


Praise your child for their efforts

It is important to praise your child for their efforts, even if they are disfluent. This will help build their confidence and make them feel good about themselves.


Consult with an SLP

If you are concerned about your child's speech, consult with a speech-language pathologist. They will be able to assess your child's speech and determine whether or not they are displaying signs of typical disfluency or stuttering.


At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.

 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.

I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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