As professionals who work with people who stutter, we realize that stuttering is one of the most misunderstood communication disorders. For example, how many times have you heard the any of the following comments?
- “I hear stuttering is caused by (insert outdated or misleading cause here).”
- “Oh, you work with stuttering? I stutter sometimes too!”
- “If he just slows down his talking, then he won’t stutter.”
Most people who do not stutter (including some speech professionals) seem to have a desire to explain the complexities of stuttering in an overly simplistic way. Many times, these explanations are based on outdated or erroneous information.
There is much I could write about the fallacies surrounding stuttering, but for now I want to talk about what I consider to be the “top 3 myths” that I hear most often.
1. “Stuttering is caused by...” (stress, anxiety, etc.)
This type of “causal confusion” seems to stem from the fact that stuttering was once categorized as a psychological issue. Even today, people continue to believe that anxiety is a causal factor.
Unfortunately, people do not seem to understand that impact and cause are far from the same thing. While it is true that stuttering can increase during instances of heightened emotion, I would like to help put this age-old fallacy to rest once and for all: stuttering is NOT a psychological disorder!
As my colleague J. Scott Yaruss addressed in a recent blog post (Is Stuttering Neurological?), stuttering is not caused by any single factor...especially not anxiety.
2. “Everyone stutters sometimes!”
Many people try to be helpful and empathic to those who stutter by inferring or saying that “everyone stutters sometimes.” This is pointedly untrue. While perfect fluency does not exist, and everyone IS disfluent (all speakers experience non-stuttered disfluencies), true stuttering only exists in the speech of those who stutter (for example, see this blog post: What percentage of Stuttering Behaviors Is Normal?).
Even when this type of comment is well-intended, it can have an unintended negative effect. People who stutter know that everyone does not stutter. Children may especially see this comment as a lie, thereby decreasing trust in those who do not understand stuttering.
3. “If you just...”
Finally, as professionals, let’s help everyone stop giving people who stutter advice on how to speak! Many of my students describe the onslaught of “if you just” advice as annoying and simply not helpful.
Here are some of the most common comments heard by those who stutter:
If you just...
- “slow down...”
- “say it again...”
- “take a deep breath...”
- “think about what you want to say...”
No matter how well-intended the advice, it is overly simplistic and not helpful in the long-term. The best thing speech-language pathologists can do is to help those in child’s environment refrain from advice-giving is to listen to what the child is saying and not how he is speaking. When we help society focus on communication, we can help debunk the myth that just one or two simple things can “fix” stuttering.
So what do we do? Whenever I hear one of the fallacies above, I know that I have an opportunity to broaden the understanding of stuttering within a child’s environment and within society as a whole.
The good news is that we write about the myths surrounding stuttering at length in our books and materials. Learn more about what stuttering is (and what it is not), the causal factors leading to stuttering, and how listeners can help without giving simplistic advice!
Together we can debunk the myths and replace them with facts about stuttering.