Many people say “um” or “like” or another sound when they cannot think of the next word to say. In addition, most people sometimes have difficulty starting a word or sentence, repeating certain words or sounds or clearly making some speech sounds. Symptoms may be worse when one becomes excited, self-conscious, tired, hurried or under stress. Speaking in front of a group can be particularly stressful. For most people, this is a minor annoyance.

Having a problem speaking fluently, however, can be a serious communication issue that starts in childhood and affects some people throughout their life — they stutter or stammer, and as a result often limit their activities. Those who stutter may also blink their eyes rapidly or have facial tics or head jerks when trying to speak. Stuttering (also called stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder) is a speech disorder that can be treated effectively.

Causes of Stuttering
People who stutter know what they wish to say but cannot say it. If you stutter, you can probably speak without stuttering when you talk to yourself or when singing or reciting a text in unison with another person. Stuttering is common in young children and generally resolves over time, but it can continue into adulthood. Men are more likely to stutter than women.

Stuttering has many possible causes:

  • Abnormalities in controlling the muscles of speech
      • Trauma
      • Neuromuscular disorder
      • Other neurological disorder
  • Medical conditions such as stroke
  • Genetic abnormalities in the language centers of the brain
  • Emotional trauma (rare)

Diagnosis of Stuttering
Our team at Houston Methodist includes speech-language pathologists as well as neurologists who will ask you about stuttering as a child, how stuttering affects you today and what options you have already explored. Our doctors may recommend tests to identify underlying medical or psychological causes that can be treated. In addition, not every person who stutters has the same speech problem; therefore, detailed analysis of your speech patterns is necessary and key for effective treatment.

Treatments for Stuttering
There is no definitive cure for stuttering; however, the three most common therapies to help control stuttering include controlled fluency, electronic devices and cognitive-behavioral therapy:

  • Controlled fluency involves slowing down speech until you do not stutter, then increasing the speed until you have reached a more normal pattern.
  • One of many types of electronic devices for stuttering simultaneously plays what you are saying into earphones so it sounds like you are speaking in unison with another person.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify and change ways of thinking that may make stuttering worse.

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