Robillard: Offering insight into speech, stuttering

Stuttering. For many, the word may conjure up childhood memories of Porky Pig or, more recently, the movie The King’s Speech. However, stuttering affects approximately 70 million people worldwide.

With roughly 1 per cent of the population impacted, you have likely already interacted with at least one person who stutters, although you may not have known it.

As May is Speech and Hearing Month, as designated by College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, this is a perfect time to look at stuttering and its impact on lives. Although that 1 per cent have stuttering in common, they are still individuals with different personalities, life experiences and perceptions towards their speech.

One of them may have learned to hide their stutter using well-timed body movements and avoiding words they know will cause them to stutter.

Another may be self-conscious about their speech and will avoid speaking situations at all costs.

Another may be confident and will openly stutter, seemingly unbothered.

Although it varies from person to person, stuttering is a disruption to the effortless flow of speech. It results in behaviours such as repetitions of sounds, syllables or words (e.g. li-li-like), prolongations of sounds (e.g. llllllike) or complete stoppages of sound during speech. People who stutter may also use unusual facial or body movements while speaking.

Although we do not know exactly what causes stuttering, we know it is due to a combination of factors, including genetics, child development, neurophysiology and family dynamics. It typically begins in childhood and, while many children will stop stuttering before they reach adolescence, others will continue to stutter throughout adulthood.

This means that many students who have been dealing with stuttering throughout their childhood must now learn to navigate adulthood with their disorder. Think of the impact stuttering could have on interacting with a professor or boss, participating in a discussion, making new friends, talking to people at a party, or interviewing for a job.

While unlikely for an adult to completely stop stuttering, speech therapy can greatly improve one’s speech and the way they view their stutter. A registered speech-language pathologist can develop an individualized plan to help someone who stutters reduce their stuttering, better control their emotions around stuttering and learn to approach and participate in speaking situations with more confidence.

At Western, the H.A. Leeper Speech and Hearing Clinic offers speech therapy to students, faculty and staff members, and any members of the community who are affected by stuttering. The clinic offers one-on-one therapy sessions with student clinicians completing their master’s degree under the direct supervision of a registered speech-language pathologist. Group therapy for stuttering is also offered, including after-school programs and summer camps for children who stutter, and refresher programs for adults who have previously completed therapy.

Marika Robillard is a graduate student in her final year of the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program at Western. She completed a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree in SLP at Laurentian University. She is passionate about advocating for the profession and has also recently published a two-part blog post raising awareness of Developmental Language Disorders on Speech-Language Audiology Canada’s website.