How is stuttering or stammering diagnosed and treated?
Researchers hope that one day stuttering can be treated as a biological disorder with a medical cure, not a character weakness.
In the meantime, if you or your child stutters, a variety of treatments are available. Talk to a speech-language pathologist — a health professional trained to test and treat children with voice, speech and language problems — about the options.
How is stuttering diagnosed?
Stuttering is usually diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist (SLP), a health professional who is trained to test and treat individuals with voice, speech, and language disorders.
The speech-language pathologist will consider a variety of factors, including the child’s case history (such as when the stuttering was first noticed and under what circumstances), an analysis of the child’s stuttering behaviors, and an evaluation of the child’s speech and language abilities and the impact of stuttering on his or her life.
When evaluating a young child for stuttering, a speech-language pathologist will try to predict if the child is likely to continue his or her stuttering behavior or outgrow it. To determine this difference, the speech-language pathologist will consider such factors as the family’s history of stuttering, whether the child’s stuttering has lasted six months or longer, and whether the child exhibits other speech or language problems.
How is stuttering treated?
Although there is currently no cure for stuttering, there are a variety of treatments available. The nature of the treatment will differ, based upon a person’s age, communication goals, and other factors. If you or your child stutters, it is important to work with a speech-language pathologist to determine the best treatment options.
For very young children, early treatment may prevent developmental stuttering from becoming a lifelong problem. Certain strategies can help children learn to improve their speech fluency while developing positive attitudes toward communication.
Health professionals generally recommend that a child be evaluated if he or she has stuttered for three to six months, exhibits struggle behaviors associated with stuttering, or has a family history of stuttering or related communication disorders. Some researchers recommend that a child be evaluated every three months to determine if the stuttering is increasing or decreasing. Treatment often involves teaching parents about ways to support their child’s production of fluent speech.
Parents may be encouraged to:
Provide a relaxed home environment that allows many opportunities for the child to speak. This includes setting aside time to talk to one another, especially when the child is excited and has a lot to say.
Refrain from reacting negatively when the child stutters. Instead, parents should react to the stuttering as they would any other difficulty the child may experience in life. This may involve gentle corrections of the child’s stuttering and praise for the child’s fluent speech.
Be less demanding on the child to speak in a certain way or to perform verbally for people, particularly if the child experiences difficulty during periods of high pressure.
Speak in a slightly slowed and relaxed manner. This can help reduce time pressures the child may be experiencing.
Listen attentively when the child speaks and wait for him or her to say the intended word. Don’t try to complete the child’s sentences. Also, help the child learn that a person can communicate successfully even when stuttering occurs.
Talk openly and honestly to the child about stuttering if he or she brings up the subject. Let the child know that it is okay for some disruptions to occur.
Many of the current therapies for teens and adults who stutter focus on learning ways to minimize stuttering when they speak, such as by speaking more slowly, regulating their breathing, or gradually progressing from single-syllable responses to longer words and more complex sentences. Most of these therapies also help address the anxiety a person who stutters may feel in certain speaking situations.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drug for the treatment of stuttering. However, some drugs that are approved to treat other health problems — such as epilepsy, anxiety, or depression — have been used to treat stuttering. These drugs often have side effects that make them difficult to use over a long period of time. In a recent study funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), researchers concluded that drug therapy has been largely ineffective in controlling stuttering. Clinical trials of other possible drug treatments are underway.
Some people who stutter use electronic devices to help control fluency. For example, one type of device fits into the ear canal, much like a hearing aid, and digitally replays a slightly altered version of the wearer’s voice into the ear so that it sounds as if he or she is speaking in unison with another person.
In some people, electronic devices help improve fluency in a relatively short period of time. Nevertheless, questions remain about how long such effects may last and whether people are able to easily use these devices in real-world situations. For these reasons, researchers are continuing to study the long-term effectiveness of these devices.
Many people find that they achieve their greatest success through a combination of self-study and therapy. Self-help groups provide a way for people who stutter to find resources and support as they face the challenges of stuttering.