I can haz stutter. Do not want.
January 30, 2008 12:46 AM   Subscribe

I stutter. I don't want to. Maybe you can help.

I've had a stutter pretty much all my life. It comes and goes, frankly. Sometimes I'm a perfectly smooth talker, other times I can't get a sentence out. It doesn't seem related to stress level, or concentration level, how fast I'm talking, or who I'm speaking to--some days are great, some are bad.

It's always the beginnings of words, and I can almost always say the word if I hear someone else say it (for instance, if I were to pause as I sometimes do to avoid stuttering [usually this doesn't help] and you were to say the word, I could them say it without a problem most likely.) No particular sound or situation appears to be the trigger. Slowing my speech down doesn't help, unfortunately; I've tried to start a word for ten seconds before and was just plain unable to get the syllable out. Sometimes I repeat the first syllable (as in a common stutter) and other times I just can't start the word, I'm basically unable to speak.

The stuttering is really getting in the way of my communicating with others. I have always been a quiet person (perhaps for just this reason) but my job requires pretty much constant talking to customers and coworkers. I'd love to be able to actually say what I'm thinking--something I've never been able to do, frankly. I'm very easy to get along with, fairly gregarious...but having to minimize/simplify things I say to avoid confusion and embarrassment is a serious impediment now. My father and grandfather both say they stuttered as children, but outgrew it. I'm almost 23 so I don't see that happening anytime soon.

I'd love your suggestions and any resources you might have. I can't afford speech therapy, unfortunately...and I won't be able to for the foreseeable future. So pretty much anything other suggestion would be great.
posted by Phyltre to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm just like you, in that I block on getting words started.

Now that I'm 40 the problem has largely gone away.

The main work-around I used was developing alternate vocabularly to immediately substitute for the word that was getting stuck in the gears.

This is just my unscientific, anecdotal, gut-level opinion, but I think it's a self-reinforcing / self-defeating confidence issue in the end. Success breeds success, and failure breeds failure.

What helped a lot for me was practical public speaking skill development, teaching Conversational English in Japan for 2 years at age 25-27.
posted by panamax at 12:59 AM on January 30, 2008

I've heard good things about The Stuttering Foundation. They have a section of their website for adults who stutter.
posted by Jahaza at 1:02 AM on January 30, 2008

Don't know where you are, but this UK site looks useful.
posted by Phanx at 2:06 AM on January 30, 2008

Quite a lot of links, in particular.
posted by Phanx at 2:08 AM on January 30, 2008

I have a very similar problem ... I can't always articulate the beginings of words or sentences, but instead of stuttering I say it all in an unintelligible rush. The problem has definitely been getting better with age (I'm almost 30). Similar story to panamax: I taught English and ESL in a high school for two years and that improved my speech. Then I moved to Germany, so whenever I have to speak English it has to be very clear and slow. I'm pretty sure I don't have any problems in English any more, but certain German words still trip me up, among others "Republikaner" and "Identifikation". There's just too many zig-zagging syllables at the beginning. Like panamax, I avoid these words, but when I have to say them I just concentrate really hard on each individual syllable.
posted by creasy boy at 4:10 AM on January 30, 2008

Does it worsen if you're tired?
posted by Stewriffic at 5:29 AM on January 30, 2008

About a year ago, I saw a television newsmagazine segment about a treatment for stuttering that involved a tiny recording device and an ear-bud type speaker in one ear. The recorder played back the user's voice on a slight delay, into the user's ear. There was a lengthy explanation about why doctors think this technique worked. In the people featured on the show anyway, the results were pretty astounding.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:25 AM on January 30, 2008

I don't have any personal experience, just an idea that's inline with what panamax said - can you try just shifting to another word? Just avoid the one that's getting stuck by using a synonym, or even just skipping that word?
posted by KAS at 6:54 AM on January 30, 2008

My mother knew a man that had a severe stutter his whole life. It was very obvious. Anyway, she hadn't seen him for about 6 months and when he returned - absolutely NO stuttering. He had gotten botulism injections (botox) for the stuttering. It was quite amazing. ::shrugs:: Something to look in to, I guess.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:38 AM on January 30, 2008

I come from a family of stutterers who found help through The Stuttering Foundation of America and their book "Self Therapy for the Stutterer" available on their web site at www.stutteringhelp.org. The book is not something to just sit and read through, though. It is a book to work through the steps and practice over and over. One uncle was able to afford to go to a speech therapist who specialized in treating stuttering (recommended to him by the Foundation) and he found that she used that book in her sessions. You can find it in their estore, at Amazon.com, and at some public libraries.

Stuttering is so exasperating. It comes and goes and catches you off guard when you think everything is going fine. There are good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments. The telephone is sometimes your worst enemy.

Those electronic devices don't work for everyone, so be careful about spending the money to try one. Some have said that they worked at first but the effect wore off over time.

Meet others who stutter here: http://groups.myspace.com/stutteringfoundation

This blog might have some useful info http://notesonstuttering.blogspot.com/

I'm an old man and don't know how to get these links like you others did! Maybe something changes when I hit "post."

posted by Bud at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2008

A LOT of people have the problem. Even James Earl Jones and Carly Simon, who are both known for their voices.

Can you sing without stuttering? A lot of people started singing as therapy for the condition. Sometimes "speak-singing" apparently helps some people. You know, kinda like how William Shatner does it where there's no melody.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I spent much of my childhood and adolesence weighed down by a somewhat opposite problem- I talked really. really. really. fast. I know that doesn't sound like something that would be a problem, but believe me, it was. I was told several times by potential employers that they thought I was qualified for a job, excepy my speech made them uncomfortable and they expected the same with clients, and I had several teachers who were really cruel and would imitate me in class when I tried to ask a question. I wanted to work in a very talky, people-oriented industry, so I was really worried. People gave me terrible advice, like "slow down" or "relax" (oh really? thanks!) I couldn't just "slow down", it would make me lose my train of thought and feel self-conscious, and I'd just speed up again. And every time I talked, some jerk would imitate me or comment on it.

I finally started looking on stuttering webforums for help, and found a piece of stuttering therapy advice that worked really well for me. Some speech therapists will put a strip of rough velcro on a table (like maybe 10 inches or so) and have the client run their finger along it at a medium pace (1 inch per second, maybe, or a little faster) as they speak. For some reason, the steady tactile information-stream helps increase their fluency. After working on this for a while, they'd then wear a velcro wristband and run a finger along it only when they started to block or repeat. I never bothered with the velcro strip, but I really find that if I'm having a hard time controlling my rate of speech, running one index finger along something with texture- along my watchband, across the tabletop, up the side seam of my jeans, even through my hair- is an innocuous way to try to solve the problem.

For what it's worth, I think stuttering is a really attractive trait. I think stutterers are more likely to think about what they say and pare down the signal-to-noise ratio, which makes their comments much more likely to be interesting and insightful. My favourite ex-boyfriend had a terrible stutter as a child (he had to use a nickname because he couldn't say his own name)- and some attendant humiliations. The stutter tapered off in his 20s to the point where, say, in a 20 second phone message, he'd stutter on maybe 6 separate syllables (he tends to repeat syllables more than he blocks on them, although he blocks too). But now, in his mid 30s, he stutters maybe twice per conversation. He didn't do anything conscious to change this- although I think it was partly that he met girls who thought his stutter was hot, so he started being more OK with it!

My dad stutters, and my mom used to always encourage him to read to me when I was little- I think she was trying to subtly impose speech therapy on him without being obvious about it. Slowly reading Dr. Seuss with an adoring, nonjudgemental child is probably pretty good therapy- to this day he stutters less than he did when I was little, and least of all around me. And anecdotally, I can think of two other male friends whose stutters loosened considerably as they hit 3ish and achieved major life goals- one stuttered noticeably less after getting his PhD, and another when he sucked up his fear, took Toastmasters, and started doing public speaking. He was terrified, of course, but I think conquering that looming horror made him way more comfortable ordering a cheeseburger. From observing those anecdotes, really do I think there's something to be said for "growing into yourself" and being more comfortable in general, and I think 23 is still pretty early to give up hope. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:13 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you sing without stuttering? A lot of people started singing as therapy for the condition. Sometimes "speak-singing" apparently helps some people. You know, kinda like how William Shatner does it where there's no melody.

On the same note, when I had this problem at 15, I read a book where people would speak to the beat of a metronome. Obviously I was not able to carry one around and keep it on constantly, but when I would start to feel the stutter, I would tap my leg with a moderate, rythmic beat (tick-tock, tick-tock) and would start my sentence to the beat.

Once I started it, it seemed to work. Was it that in particular or did I coincidentally grow out of it? I don't know, but it might be worth looking into and trying.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2008

bitteroldman, a therapist had me tap my finger to words, and it worked better than nothing, but was a pretty meh-worthy technique, but I can definitely see letting the finger pace your speech instead of the speech pace your finger being more effective.
posted by adamwolf at 12:48 PM on January 30, 2008

I know you said that you can't afford speech therapy, but if you have a university nearby with a program in Communicative Disorders or Communication Sciences & Disorders (the two names for programs that train speech therapists) they often provide therapy on a sliding scale. It's pretty inexpensive. You'll be working with a grad student who's training to be a speech therapist and she'll be supervised by a professor. It's something that's worth looking into.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:32 PM on January 30, 2008

Some anticonvulsants have been found to help in some cases of developmental (idiopathic) stuttering, but it's hard to find a doc who knows about this because it's kind of a neglected corner of medicine, and that route is certainly not cheaper than speech therapy.

I second the recommendation of the Stuttering Foundation.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:03 PM on January 30, 2008

I don't stutter myself, but have an acquaintance who used to. It was a big problem for him as a kid, so he would try to map out what he was trying to say before he said it, so that he wasn't searching for words whilst he spoke. It helped to conquer his stutter (killed the anxiety, gave more confidence, made him more comfortable with his words), and had the added bonus side effect of making him a very literate, intelligent speaker, as everything he says sounds very deliberate and organised.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 7:19 AM on January 31, 2008

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