A person’s fluency may be disrupted following a stroke, head injury or during the course of the progression of a number of neurological conditions. On top of difficulties with speech articulation and/or constructing sentences, a person’s rhythm of speech may not be what it used to be, resulting in a stilted, staccato rhythm, or perhaps a fast mumbling speech rate in which the words tend to trip over one another.
Another and perhaps more common type of dysfluency, is stuttering. Usually (but not always) stuttering is a communication disorder which follows a person through from early childhood.
Evidence shows that the best time to treat stuttering is in the early years, as a preschooler. There are, however, programs which can be implemented in adulthood which have been shown to be successful at assisting people to control their stuttering and speak fluently.
The exact cause of stuttering continues to be unknown; however it is strongly thought to be a problem involving the coordination of speech. Many people who stutter are known to have other relatives who stutter, or used to stutter, so it would appear that there may be a genetic link.
It is also known that stuttering occurs more commonly in males than in females.
Common types of stutters include:
• Blocks – a sudden halt in the speaking process, during which time the person may be seen to be groping for the right sound/word. Speech blocks may be overcome very quickly, or they may last for many seconds.
• Repetitions- single sounds, parts of words, whole words or even short phrases may be repeated several times before the person continues on with the rest of the sentence.
• Prolongations – drawing a sound out, making it much longer than it would usually be.
• Secondary behaviours – sometimes the person may move another part of their body, apparently unnecessarily – such as blink, jerk their head, or tap their hand/foot.
As stated earlier, it is known that the best time to treat stuttering is in early childhood. Studies show that as a preschooler, treatment may help to eliminate the stutter.
From school-age, it is less likely that the stutter will be totally eliminated. Instead, the child, or adult, can be taught how to control the stutter and improve speech fluency.
Prolonged speech has long been a favoured approach used by Speech Pathologists in Australia for treating stuttering in adults.
In order for therapy to be effective, a high level of commitment to attendance at regular speech therapy sessions, as well as daily practice at home is essential. Sessions of at least 45 minutes duration, once a week in the early months of therapy is highly recommended.