How to stop or reduce a stutter
Everyone experiences periods in which speech is not fluent. For some, a stutter can get in the way of everyday life.
A person who stutters may only struggle with certain words or sounds. They may experience:
- sound and syllable repetitions
- sound prolongations of consonants as well as vowels
- broken words
- audible or silent blocking (filled or unfilled pauses in speech)
- circumlocutions (word substitutions to avoid problematic words)
- words pronounced with an excess of physical tension
- monosyllabic whole-word repetitions (e.g. "I-I-I-I see him")
Stuttering can also have physical signs, such as movements in the face and body as a person attempts to pronounce a word.
According to the Stuttering Foundation, over 70 million people worldwide are affected. Of these, 3 million live in the United States. Males are four times more likely to stutter than females, and about 5 percent of children will go through a period of stuttering.
For people who regularly experience stuttering, and for those who experience it due to stress, several methods can help to reduce the frequency or eliminate it altogether.
Quick tips to stop stuttering
Slowing down, speaking with a rhythm, and focusing on breathing can help to reduce stuttering.
The following techniques can help a person to avoid or reduce stuttering in everyday situations, or, for example, when giving a presentation.
Focus on breathing
Before a social interaction or a period of prolonged speech, make a conscious effort to relax and breathe. Results of a study published in 2012 suggest that deep, mindful breathing helps to reduce blood pressure and increase the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Deep breathing also reduces anxiety, which can have a powerful effect on stuttering.
Focus on maintaining a slow rate of speech, and remember to pause between sentences and words. Continue to take deep breaths while speaking to keep anxiety under control.
Speaking too quickly can make a person feel more anxious and increase the rate of stuttering.
Avoid certain words
For many people who stutter, some words are more difficult to get out than others. Make a note of these trigger words and find alternatives to use. Also, practicing these trigger words can help to reduce the likelihood of stuttering while saying them socially. A speech therapist can advise about the best ways to practice.
Speak with a rhythm
Many people report that stuttering disappears when they sing. This is partly due to the smooth, controlled rhythm of sung language. Before speaking, imagine that you are about to sing. Also, practice putting a slight rhythm into your speech. This may help to improve speech fluency.
Many people use this technique ahead of presentations and public speaking, but it can also be useful in everyday conversations.
Anyone who is feeling nervous about speaking should try to visualize their words before they are pronounced. This can help a person to feel more prepared, in control, and confident in their communication.
Research published in 2015 suggests that imagining interactions and rehearsing speeches ahead of time can improve the fluency of speech and a person's own evaluation of their performance.
It may also help to visualize positive outcomes of conversations. This can ease a person's nerves and help them to avoid stuttering during interactions.
Use body movements to calm nerves
Channeling nervous energy into deliberate body movements may help to reduce stuttering. People often use this technique when speaking in public.
For a presenter, this may involve making slow movements across the stage or controlled gestures. During conversations, a person may benefit from walking or using hand gestures.
How to stop stuttering permanently
A speech therapist can help a person manage their stuttering.
For many, lots of time and effort are needed to reduce or eliminate a stutter. Over time, speech therapy and practice at home can result in drastic improvements.
A speech therapist can help children and adults to manage stuttering. For some, speech therapy may be required at different times throughout life.
Initially, a therapist tests a person's speech and assesses the severity of a stutter. Every person who stutters has a unique experience, and a therapist will ask about the impact that stuttering has on a person's life. They will then tailor their sessions to suit the individual.
A speech therapist can also teach coping strategies to reduce anxiety around stuttering.
Practicing and rehearsing speech, especially trigger words or phrases, can help to improve a stutter. Practice should focus on:
- speaking slowly
- using compensatory strategies
- completing thoughts
- reducing tension
- taking deep breaths while speaking
It can help to practice in front of a mirror or with members of a support network.
Develop a strong support network
Often, the reactions of others can have a big impact on how a person who stutters sees themselves. It is important to be surrounded by positive, supportive people so that a person can speak without the fear of judgment.
Some people who stutter benefit from a device called a speech monitor that is attached to the outer ear. This alters sound frequencies and uses delayed feedback to help a person regulate their speech.
While insurance sometimes covers the cost, these devices can be expensive. A doctor may be able to recommend more affordable options.
Many people find speech monitors helpful, but there is no guarantee that they provide permanent benefits.
By practicing techniques and working on long-term strategies, many people can overcome stuttering.
Some children go through a phase of stuttering as part of their natural development. For others, stuttering never entirely goes away, though it may change as a person ages. For example, a person may only stutter when under pressure, such as during a presentation.
With patience and practice, most people can reduce the frequency of stuttering.