Stuttering in adults
Stuttering is a fluency disorder which can present in several different ways in adults.
You or someone you know may have started:
- repeating words, sounds, or syllables;
- pausing or holding sounds for longer than usual;
- using a lot of empty phrases such as ‘umm’ and ‘ahhh’; or
- making new eye or head movements while talking.
We all have these patterns in our speech from time to time. However, if they are regular and not able to be easily controlled, a person may be stuttering.
Stuttering can range from mild to severe. It can be frustrating and impact all aspects of a person’s personal and professional life. People who stutter are more prone to anxiety and can take a long time to get their message across. For adults who have persistently stuttered since childhood, this may also have impacted their relationships and career pursuits in the past. The ability to speak freely in front of one's friends, family and colleagues is something that is important to all of us and struggling with this can have a critical impact on a person’s confidence, sense of self and emotional wellbeing.
Thankfully, there are treatment options available that can assist adults to significantly reduce and control their stuttering. In fact, here in Australia, we are home to extensively researched and world-leading treatment for persistent adult stuttering.
What causes stuttering?
The short answer is – despite this question having been researched over many decades – no one is exactly sure. What we do know is that stuttering is multifactorial. That is, stuttering is influenced by cognitive, linguistic, affective (emotional), environmental and motor movement factors during what we call a complex stuttering moment. We suspect that a complex stuttering moment is caused by a sort of ‘glitch’ in the brain when the person who stutters goes to speak.
In some instances, stuttering runs in families, however this is not always the case. We do know that first signs of stuttering usually appear between the ages of two and six, and that stuttering is more common in boys than girls. Children who have a stutter that does not resolve naturally while they are young may continue to stutter into adolescence and adulthood. The stutter may have come and gone at different times over the years, or may only be noticeable in certain situations, but the underlying predisposition to stutter is generally lifelong. That is, if people are still stuttering into adulthood, it will no longer resolve naturally, and treatment is generally recommended.
What does therapy involve?
Therapy for stuttering involves attending regular Speech Pathology sessions and working through a structured program under the supervision of your therapist.
The Camperdown Program is the gold-standard evidence-based program for treating stuttering in adults. This client-centered program retrains the speech pattern, allowing the person who stutters to control their level of stuttering to their own satisfaction. This program usually takes approximately 10-20 therapy hours, plus daily practice, to achieve near zero stuttering. This is then followed by periodic ongoing maintenance.
Studies have shown that Telehealth (online therapy) is an effective delivery method for adults undertaking the Camperdown Program. Read more about Telehealth (online therapy) here. Studies have also found that motivation is a significant indicator of success when working with adults who stutter, so be prepared for the Speech Pathologist to ask: How much do you want this? That is, if you are intrinsically motivated to work on your stutter (rather than working on it simply because someone has told you to or because you think you should) you have a greater chance of successfully reducing your stutter in day-to-day life.
Stuttering and anxiety
Anxiety appears in higher rates amongst people who stutter than in the general population and can further contribute to difficulties with communication. A Speech Pathologist will be able to determine whether anxiety is likely to be contributing to communication difficulties and whether treatment for anxiety is also recommended to facilitate stuttering treatment.
Lowe, R., Menzies, R., Onslow, M., Packman, A., & O'Brian, S. (2021). Speech and anxiety management with persistent stuttering: Current status and essential research. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 64(1), 59–74. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_JSLHR-20-00144
O’Brian, S., Packman, A. & Onslow, M. (2008). Telehealth delivery of the Camperdown Program for adults who stutter: A phase 1 trial. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 51(1), 184, 195. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2008/014)