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What is Stuttering?

In its most simple definition, stuttering is a neurophysiological disorder with a genetic transmission which causes the speaker to produce tense and arrhythmic disfluencies.

- Neurophysiological disorder just means that stuttering is caused by differences in the brain and body.

- Genetic transmission means that stuttering runs in families, so if you or your child stutters, you may know other people who stutter within your family.

In order to better understand what stuttering is, it is important to dispel some of the myths surrounding stuttering and define what it is not.

What Stuttering is Not:

Stuttering is not due to a psychological cause or low intelligence.

- Stuttering is not caused by anxiety, nervousness, or any other emotional state nor is it caused by being of lesser intelligence.

- Stuttering can, however, increase in frequency when a person feels anxious, nervous, or stressed. Engaging in desensitizing exercises such as intentional stuttering may reduce the frequency or impact of stuttering events but will not cause it to go away entirely because it is simply not the cause.

Stuttering is not something that everyone does from time to time.

- Stuttering differs from the typical disfluencies produced by people who do not stutter in that stuttering-like disfluencies are produced with an arrhythmic pattern and tension to which the listener’s ear does not adapt.

- Additionally, typical disfluencies are often produced when the speaker is uncertain of what to say or experiences a “tip of the tongue” sensation. Conversely, people who stutter frequently report that they know exactly what they want to say but cannot get the words out.

Stuttering is not something that a person will just grow out of if it is just ignored.

- While it is difficult to predict who will persist within their stuttering, the risk factors are believed to be the following:

- Being biologically male (Craig et al., 2002; Yairi & Ambrose, 2013)

- Having a family history of stuttering (Kraft & Yairi, 2011)

- Continuing to stutter beyond 6 to 12 months from its onset (Yairi & Ambrose, 2005)

- Beginning to stutter at age 3 ½ years old or later (Yairi & Ambrose, 2005)

- Having a co-occurring speech and/or language impairment (Ntourou, et al., 2011; Yaruss, et al., 1998)

*Note: These factors have proven to be only 30-80% accurate as predictors of persistent stuttering. With such a large range, they are difficult to rely on!

Stuttering is not a learned behavior caused by anything which was said to or overheard by the person that stutters.

- There is nothing that anyone could say or do to influence a person to begin stuttering. While many parents are concerned that their reactions or the reactions of others to their child’s stutter will cause or has caused it to persist, that is simply not the case.

- Parents and others can, however, influence the communication attitudes held by the person who stutters. Being supportive and using positive language surrounding stuttering can help the speaker feel accepted and encourage to grow in their communications with others!

- For an example of how others can influence the communication attitudes surrounding stuttering, see the following post: Lessons on Stuttering: Learning from The Monster Study.


Byrd, C. (2020, August 31). Fluency Disorders [Lecture]. University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States of America.

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