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Practical Thoughts Blog

Stuttering is NOT a low-incidence disorder!

Stuttering is NOT a low-incidence disorder!

I often hear people talk about how stuttering is a “low-incidence” disorder, and it makes me nuts! Why? Because according to the research, we should be seeing a lot more people who stutter than we actually are!

Put simply, people who stutter are a dramatically underserved population. Here’s why: According to best estimates, the prevlance of stuttering is about 1%. That would mean that there are approximately 3,000,000 people who stutter in the United States aloneand maybe 70,000,000 worldwide! If we take just that 3,000,000 figure and divide that up by the number of practicing speech-language pathologists in the US (figure roughly around 170,000), then each of us would have 17 people who stutter on our caseloads!

Where are they?

Of course, most people who stutter aren't currently receiving treatment. (Research shows that the vast majority, about 93%, have had treatment in the past, but only a small fraction are seeking treatment presently.) And, not all of those 170,000 clinicians work in settings where they would see people who stutter. Still, in the schools, we would expect there to be quite a few children in need of treatment.

Moreover: Even though the prevalence of stuttering is 1%, the incidence of stuttering is much higher. The commonly accepted figure is about 5%, though some studies show it as high as 11%. Using the 5% figure would mean that at least 1 out of 20 young children is going to go through a period of stuttering. Note how much higher that is even than the incidence of autism!

Yet, people still persist with the myth that stuttering is a "low incidence" disorder (they really mean "low prevalence," but that's just nitpicking ). It is not; instead, it is an underserved disorder.

(Just for a fun exercise, compare the accepted prevalence of stuttering - about 1% - with the accepted prevalence of aphasia - just 0.33%! Clearly, there is a need to ensure that we are training student clinicians adequately for treating stuttering, just as we need to train them adequately for treating aphasia.)

Bottom line? Next time tells you that stuttering is low incidence, tell them they’re wrong and that we, as a profession, are missing out-literally-on millions of people who stutter who might benefit from our help--or, at least, our recognition.