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Stuttering - What it is and how to help

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Updated: May 27th, 2021

Everyone knows how it feels to trip over your words and find yourself stuttering for a moment, but for some people, a stutter is a daily challenge to their communication.

What is it?

For 1% of the population, stuttering is a speech disorder that begins in childhood, usually between age 2 and 6, and may last throughout adulthood. It can present as repetitions of sounds, words, or blocks where the person can’t get a sound out for several seconds. People who stutter know what they want to say, they just have difficulty doing so. The anxiety and fear about stuttering in a speaking situation keeps some individuals from enjoying their lives to the fullest, making them feel even more isolated and stressed.


Don’t take it from us, listen to what those who stutter directly are saying: “Growing up, I always struggled with my stutter. As a child, I was silenced, bullied, and ashamed about how I spoke, which led me to hide my stutter from other people.” – (“Discrimination Against my Stutter”, January 2016).

“My sister would call my friends on the phone for me because when I called, their moms would hang up before I got out what I wanted to say.” (Hays, January 2017).

“The feeling of disappointment, numbness and simultaneous relief after a tough presentation is all too familiar… I had just finished a 20-minute presentation that should have only taken five-minutes… because of a relentless barrage of stuttering and vocal blocks.” (“On Perseverance and adaptation, October 2017).

stuttering causes

What causes a stutter?

Public attitudes toward stuttering create misinformation and stereotypes that can lead to stigma: according to a public survey, people who stutter are perceived as being shy, nervous, and passive.

Stuttering can be triggered or worsened by specific social settings, for instance, speaking in front of large groups, over the phone, etc. However, this isn't what creates the stutter in the first place.

According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, there is no definitive cause of stuttering, but some factors that may contribute to it are family history of stuttering and brain differences.

How can I support someone who stutters?

Stuttering can become worse by a negative reaction from a listener. Here are some ideas of how you can interact with someone who stutters:

What you CAN do to help when someone is stuttering:

  1. Maintain eye contact

  2. Be patient! Wait to let the person say what they want

  3. Pay attention to what the person is saying by being sensitive, friendly and non-judgmental

  4. Ask them what they prefer you to do when they stutter

  5. If questions are welcome, asking questions about stuttering can create a sense of acceptance, inclusiveness and comfort

What NOT to do:

  1. Rush them; pressure to speak quickly may increase stuttering

  2. Finishing their stuttered words and/or sentences (unless they ask you to)

  3. Offer advice for stuttering: giving tips or saying it’s easy to stop stuttering

  4. Fake stuttering during conversation

  5. Tell the person how they should feel about their stuttering

  6. Assume or ignore a message that you do not understand

Overall, it's important that you treat the people who stutter like anyone else – make it known that you are interested in what the person is saying rather than the way in which they are saying it. This will help both conversational partners feel at ease.


Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual speech thearpy to anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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