Better Speech 6 min read

Why do Some Adults Stutter and How to Stop Stuttering in Adults

Many of us occasionally stumble, but stuttering in adults impacts the daily lives of about 3 million Americans. Speech pathology can offer adults speech therapy to help to stop stuttering.

Stuttering in adults can be a mild annoyance that can be worked around, while for others, it’s a major handicap that affects every aspect of their life. If you’re one of the adults who stutter, don’t feel alone. There are speech pathology resources available to help you stop your stutter and speak more fluently. Adult speech therapy techniques can help at any age. This post will help you get started on your journey to better communication.

the man leaned on his hands

How common is stuttering in adults?

More common than people think. Approximately 1% of the general population (or around 3 million in the U.S. alone) stutters, but the ratio of males to females who stutter is approximately 4:1!

Men are four times more likely to need adult speech therapy for stuttering. The reason is unclear, but it may be linked with genetic factors; females could be more resistant to inheriting a stutter and/or could have better recovery rates than males. The bottom line is that there are many adults who stutter, but there are fewer female adults who stutter. (,ASHA)

What is stuttering, is it the same as stammering or cluttering?

Stuttering and stammering mean the same thing. “Stammering” is the word often used in Britain; “stuttering” is commonly used in New Zealand, Australia and America. Cluttering is an altogether different disorder, often mistaken for stuttering.

Stuttering is an involuntary interruption to the flow of talking. This can occur in different ways:

  • Prolongations (or stretching sounds) “That fffffffish is swimming.”
  • Blocks “I…….I like vanilla.”
  • Repeating sounds or syllables, e.g. “B b b but it’s my turn.”
  • Repeating words, e.g. “Can can can I be next?”

Stuttering usually begins between 2 and 4 years of age. In many cases, stuttering will emerge when children begin to put words together in short sentences. The onset of stuttering may be gradual or sudden, with some children going to bed speaking fluently and waking the next morning stuttering quite severely. The severity of stuttering will vary from child to child, however typically children will begin stuttering by repeating words such as “I, I, I like that one” or “Can, can, can I have a drink?”

Over time the stuttering may change and begin to include prolongations and blocks. Some children will also display signs of tension and struggle. Some may react to stuttering with statements such as “Mommy, I can’t talk” or gestures of frustration, e.g. foot stomping. Others will go on speaking, seemingly unconcerned.

Schoolboy with a briefcase next to him, crying sitting near the wall

The severity and type of stuttering may vary in different situations and from person to person. Interruptions to the flow of speech may be accompanied by signs of tension and struggle, as well as fear, embarrassment, and anxiety. In some cases, stuttering can dominate a person’s view of themselves and their social and work relationships.

Adult speech therapy can help adults – or anyone at any age – stop stuttering. Want to talk to a speech pathologist about stuttering in adults? Book a free consultation here.

Speech therapy for child and adult

What causes stuttering in adults?

We do not know exactly what causes stuttering. Stuttering is thought to be a physical disorder, most likely resulting from a problem in the neural processing area involved in speech production. It also appears that a genetic pre-disposition may be involved, as stuttering often runs in families.

This has no impact on intelligence or cognitive ability. Stuttering in adults does not indicate that those adults are any different from the general population. Additionally, stuttering is present in all cultures and languages, giving support to the idea that it’s a neural disorder. There is no evidence to suggest that stuttering is caused by an emotional disorder, a traumatic event, parenting style, or copying someone who stutters.

Is there a cure for stuttering in adults?

There is no known ‘cure’ for stuttering, no ‘magic pill.’ However, you can stop stuttering with speech pathology and adult speech therapy. While it is best to start in early childhood, there are a variety of effective treatments for those at any age.

[A note about stuttering in kids – In childhood, many children can recover naturally from stuttering. It appears that more girls recover than boys and the highest chance of recovery is in the first six to twelve months. However, the best way to know if your child will lose their stutter naturally, or whether they require treatment, is to speak to a specialist who will assess your child individually.]

How can adults stop stuttering?

There are a variety of effective treatments available from a speech pathologist who can customize an adult speech therapy plan to help adults to stop stuttering.

For help to stop stuttering, adults can start with one of these 3 techniques:

  1. Meditative Breathing. The core of meditation is breathing. Focusing on your breathing can be a strong foundation to helping you or other adults stop stuttering. Work on staying centered in the moment. And, like a singer works to control their breath, by working on your breathing you can help to slow down your speech and work on your focus.
  2. Power Pauses. The idea is to insert small pauses into your sentences where you might otherwise be running into more difficult words. Often, by pausing, you will be able to think ahead of your phrasing. As you become more practiced at pausing, you can work on creating phrases that can be more fluent for you, and can often help you appear more thoughtful.
  3. Reluctant Recording. Yes, we know how much you love to hear your own voice recorded and played back to you, because we feel the same way. Many public speakers secretly cringe at the sound of their own voice, too! But this is such an important way to better understand where you are having issues. In this way you can learn your speech patterns and measure your progress.

Why can adults who stutter sing with no problems?

This is a common phenomenon. People who stutter will be able to sing without stuttering. A different part of the brain is activated when we sing. Similar to those recovering from a stroke, who may be able to sing words they are not yet able to speak, adults who stutter can find that their stutter will also disappear when they use an accent, recites lines or poetry, or when they are acting. Maybe that’s why you’ve never noticed that some pretty famous people like Emily Blunt, James Earl Jones, Harvey Keitel and Megan Washington have had stuttering problems.

Nervous stuttering: why does stuttering get worse when I’m nervous?

Emotions don’t cause stuttering, but they can make it worse. Talking can be compared to other physical skills, like driving a car. These activities take a certain amount of co-ordination and concentration, but the skill is largely automatic and almost subconscious. The same is true for speech. When someone who stutters (and therefore has a less efficient speech system to start with) feels nervous or excited, it is even harder for speech to flow smoothly.

How do you help someone who stutters?

Be patient and appear unhurried. Show interest in what is being said rather than how it is being said. Keep normal eye contact while the person who stutters is speaking. In general it is better not to finish their words and sentences for them as this can be very frustrating.

Does bilingualism or second language learning have an impact on stuttering?

Being bilingual does not cause stuttering. Lots of children learn two languages and do not stutter. For some children, learning two languages at once can be difficult to manage and may impact their fluency development.

Stuttering is much more common than people think. It is likely that you know someone who stutters, or stuttered as a child. Feel free to book a free consultation with the online speech pathologists at Better Speech – we can help those who stutter at any age!