What Causes Stuttering in Adults and What Can be Done About It?

What Causes Stuttering in Adults and What Can be Done About It?



When young children are only developing their language skills, it is typical to see them stutter (or stammer). Adults do not often develop a stutter out of nowhere, although it does happen. In fact, statistics show that this speech disorder affects less than 1 percent of all adults. Acquired stuttering, also known as late-onset stuttering, can occur for a variety of causes. In this article we wanted to review what causes stuttering in adults and what can be done about it.


What Does It Sound Like When You Stutter?


A typical symptom of stuttering is repetitions, which occurs when a person repeats a word, sound, or phrase. When a person’s lips are in the correct position to say a word, but no sound comes out, it is called “blocking.” This might last a few seconds. Sometimes the desired word is used, or interjections are used to avoid using a word that the speaker knows would cause complications. Words like “uh,” “like,” “I mean,” “well,” and “umm” are examples of interjections.


The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports that some people who stutter appear very tense or even out of breath when they speak.


Some common signs and symptoms of stuttering include:

  • Difficulty starting a word, phrase, or sentence
  • Having a hard time before using certain sounds
  • Sound, word, or syllable repetitions
  • Prolonging certain speech sounds
  • Speech can come out in fits and starts
  • Circumlocution  occurs (certain sounds are substituted for others)


Other secondary behaviors are associated with stuttering:

  • Blinking rapidly
  • Trembling lips
  • Tapping one’s foot
  • Trembling jaw
  • Tightening of the upper body or face
  • Clenched fists


Some common triggers of stuttering include public speaking, feeling emotional, stress, or lack of sleep.


What Causes Stuttering in Adults?


We all have disruptions or disfluencies in our speech, so no one speaks flawlessly all of the time. These disturbances, or disfluencies, are more severe and occur more frequently in adults who stutter. Stuttering fades away in youth for some people, while it continues into adulthood for others. So what causes stuttering in adults?


Stuttering is thought to be caused by a variety of variables, including genetics, language development, environment, and brain function. These aspects, when combined, can have an impact on the speech of a person who stutters.


1. Neurogenic Stuttering


This is the most prevalent type of adult stuttering. A traumatic event, such as a stroke or other brain damage, causes this, and a speech issue may develop as a result of this damage and last for a few hours or as long as a few days. It is critical to consult a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) regardless of how long the issue has been present. Speech therapy can assist in gaining a better understanding of what is going on and how to work towards improvement.

2. Medication Related Stuttering


Stuttering can be a possible side effect or response to a prescription medicine.  If this happens, call your doctor right away and follow their recommendations. To alleviate the negative effects, your doctor might modify the drug or the dose.

3. Stuttering Related to Stress or Anxiety


What causes stuttering in adults can be a trigger like severe stress. This can include financial troubles, the loss of a relationship, or other unanticipated emotional events. An accident might potentially be the reason, although in this case, the stutter could be the result of stress or a brain injury from the accident. A medical doctor should be consulted to rule out traumatic brain injury.  Meeting with a speech therapist can help you figure out what’s causing the stuttering and how stress or anxiety impacts it.  When the stress is managed or gone, the increased stuttering may die down and resolve.


4. Childhood Stuttering Can Return


Scott Yaruss, associate professor in communication science and disorders at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and co-director of the Stuttering Center of Western Pennsylvania, explains that stuttering in children between the ages of two and four is not uncommon and usually occurs when there is an increase in language skills, motor skills and social interaction with onset being sudden or gradual.


If it persists, help from a speech therapist is warranted. Stuttering that was diagnosed and required treatment by a speech therapist might resurface at any time later in life. Many people who grew up with a stutter avoid words or sounds that they stutter on. Some adults don’t even recall ever having a stutter as a young child.


Since adults have been speaking the same way for a long time they might not notice that they avoid specific sounds or situations that increase their stuttering.  Increased pressure or other factors might cause the stutter to resurface. Meeting with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can assist in identifying problematic words and improving speech fluency.


5. Idiopathic Stuttering


This sort of stuttering is caused by an unknown factor that does not fit into any of the previous categories. You can still get speech therapy from an SLP even if there is no apparent reason. This therapy will assist you in identifying situations where stuttering increases and any emotions around stuttering with the goal of decreasing stuttering moments and increasing fluency.


Is There a Cure for Stuttering?


It’s crucial to note that stuttering can’t be cured with a single approach, technology, or drug. When speaking, many people who stutter are urged to “slow down” or “just relax.” These suggestions, while well-intentioned, indicate the perception that stuttering is caused by worry and that person who stutters can control their stuttering if they try hard enough. It’s not that simple or easy to speak without stuttering.


Speaking With a Person Who Stutters


People who have never spoken to someone who stutters may be unclear of how to respond. When a person who stutters is speaking, the listener may either turn away or try to help by finishing their missing words or phrases – or simply avoid people who stutter entirely.


It’s crucial to know that a person who stutters, like everyone else, wants to communicate. The speaker’s subject and the information they’re attempting to convey should take precedence over how it sounds. Listeners should attempt to be as compassionate as possible to the situation and avoid passing judgement on the person with the disfluency.


A person who stutters is well aware of how they speak and that phrases might take longer to say. In fact, being conscious of your stuttering might make it worse. It’s important that the listener projects a sense of patience and tranquility. A patient listener may make it easier for a person who stutters to talk and finish their thoughts. Filling in the gaps (saying the missing words, for example) is a common attempt to help, but it might be regarded as impatience by the person who is stuttering and can increase their anxiety or stress.


While telling the person who stutters to relax or take a deep breath may seem like a good idea, it might really make them more stressed. Stuttering is difficult to overcome, and it is rarely resolved with a few deep breaths.


If you’re unsure of what to do when speaking with someone who stutters and no one else is around, it could be beneficial to ask them what the appropriate way to respond is.


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