Stuttering in general

What is stuttering?

Definition und symptoms of stuttering

Stuttering is a disorder of the flow of speech meaning people can’t speak fluently. This manifests as repetitions, stretches or blocking.

Many additional symptoms can occur. The face, head or body may move along with the speech. Stuttering people exchange words, rearrange sentences or use filling words like „uhm“, this allows them to avoid their stuttering symptoms. Some avoid certain situations completely, e.g. they order different meals in a restaurant because they can’t order the preferred dish without stuttering. Students may be reluctant to participate in school or stutterers shy away from telephone calls, replacing them with face-to-face communication. Many affected persons also speak of negative emotions related to stuttering, such as anger, sadness, fear, shame or loss of control.

The burden of stuttering can weigh heavily on the individual and it affects many areas of their lives. Therefore it is often referred to as a communication disorder, in rare cases it even develops into a social phobia.

All symptoms are very individual. Even the stuttering as such also manifests itself differently depending on the day, situation, person or content. Therefore the handling of each situation has to be different: some affected people are very open about their stuttering, others prefer to hide it. In either case, this is a quietly stressful situation often affecting the whole life.

Symptoms of Stuttering

Stuttering is characterized by core and accompanying symptoms. The accompanying stuttering symptoms can occur on a linguistic, non-linguistic and psychological level.

Core Symptoms

  • Repetition of sounds (b- b- but), syllables (ru- ru- ru- run) and words (and and and)
  • Stretching of sounds (buuuut)
  • Blocking of articulation, breathing and vocalization (—–but)

Common accompanying symptoms

Linguistic level

  • Filler words (e.g., um, yes, uh) and starters (fluently spoken syllables, words, phrases)
  • Increased speech tempo
  • Avoidance behavior (substitution of words, sentence changes/breaks, paraphrases)

Non-linguistic level

  • Motor activity (physical tension, mimic and whole-body co-movements)
  • Changes in breathing and vocalization
  • Physiological reactions such as heart palpitations and sweating

Psychological level

  • Speech anxiety, inner tension, shame, frustration, self-deprecation
  • Avoidance of certain situations, breaking off eye contact
  • Restrictions in the social sphere; not infrequently up to sociophopia

Source: Adapted from Sandrieser & Schneider, 2008, „Stottern im Kindesalter“.