Stuttering can be a big communication roadblock. Difficulty getting words out and clearly expressing thoughts and ideas can be challenging for people of all ages.
In many cases, the stutter itself isn’t even the worst part of the condition--it’s the effects stuttering can have on a person’s daily life. Many children and adults feel they’ve lost control of one of their most basic and important functions, which can be an unnerving and frustrating experience. This can lead them to avoid social situations, be less active in the classroom or workplace, and feel a sense of embarrassment.
Fortunately, there are many different techniques to improve fluency, or the smoothness and continuity of speech. Just like learning any skill, these take practice, and the results often don’t happen overnight. However, with enough practice and persistence, the seven strategies covered in this article can improve fluency and help individuals regain control during their everyday speech.
When to seek speech therapy for stuttering
Before diving in, let’s address one of the most common questions parents and individuals have: When is professional help from a speech therapist necessary?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Many early language learners naturally experience periods of stuttering and disfluency as they develop their communication skills. In many cases, time is the best remedy, and they’ll naturally grow out of it. However, for a considerable number of children, stuttering can persist into adulthood if it’s not properly treated.
If you notice that your child is struggling with fluency, or their stuttering is having an impact on their daily life, speak with your doctor or seek an evaluation from a speech therapist. Intervening early--before the stutter progresses--is often the best way to remediate stuttering challenges.
What are the signs that speech therapy might be needed for a stutter?
Your child’s stutter is getting progressively worse over time
The stutter continues after they turn 5 years old
Your child’s speech sounds strained
They’re actively avoiding social situations
7 helpful techniques to improve a stutter
Below are several strategies that you can practice at home to help overcome a stutter. They're broken into a few categories:
Techniques to prevent a stutter from happening in the first place
Techniques that can be used in the moment of a stutter
Techniques to use after a stutter has already developed
1. Easy onsets
Easy onsets are a technique used to prevent stuttering from happening. They're used on words that begin with a vowel. You begin by using your voice very slowly and gently. Here’s how it works:
1 First, take a deep breath
2 Slowly exhale, letting out a small, easy breath--like making an /h/ sound
3 Begin to slowly turn on your voice, starting with a very quiet sound
4 Slowly increase your volume to a normal speaking voice
Here’s an example. Let’s say you were trying to say the word “apple.” Start by taking a deep breath, then let the air out slowly, and gently say, “hhhhHHHHapple.” Over time, you'll become more used to this technique and the /h/ won't sound quite as pronounced.
The reason the early onset technique increases fluency is because you are learning how to decrease tension in the vocal folds by gently voicing a word, instead of closing the vocal folds hard to initiate the word. Tension is what creates moments of stutter, and the more we can avoid tension, the smoother speech will be.
2. Light contact
This technique can be used to change how you speak in order to prevent dysfluencies from occurring. When speaking, we use our teeth, lips, and tongue to form various sounds. But if there's too much tension when forming sounds, stuttering can happen.
In order to reduce tension and avoid stuttering, try a technique called light contact. Here's an example.
Let’s say you're trying to produce the /t/ sound. Think about how you form this sound: the tip of the tongue taps behind the front teeth.
Now say the /t/ sound three times in a row, with even lighter pressure each time. By the last /t/ sound, your tongue should barely touch the back of the teeth, but still just enough to make the /t/ sound.
This amount of pressure is what you should use when speaking. The reduction in tension will greatly help improve overall speech fluency!
3. Stretched syllables
This technique is exactly what it sounds like--a stretched, or prolonged, syllable! Stretching syllables in words can help prevent stuttering from happening. When stretching a syllable, you will want to stretch it for about two seconds each time.
Here’s an example. Try the word “singer.” You would stretch the word as “sssiiingeeerrr,” allowing about two seconds for each syllable.
It may seem unnatural to stretch syllables this long. And it’s true--we don’t typically speak this way. But if this prevents you from getting caught in a stutter, then it can definitely end up saving time and frustration!
4. Pullouts/ease outs
This technique is used during a moment of stutter. First, you'll need to identify what word you are stuttering on. After you do that, notice if there is any tension in your mouth. Try to release the tension. As you say the word, try to stretch the syllable you are stuttering and “pull out” or “ease out” of the dysfluency.
Here's an example. Let’s say you're stuttering on the word “talking.”
If the word sounded like “t-t-t-t-talking,” then the moment of stutter is on the “t.”
Now identify where the tension is. In this case, it’s at the tip of the tongue, where the /t/ sound is produced. Relax and release the tension.
Then stretch the syllable out to finish the word and ease out of the stutter. It should sound like “taaaaalking.”
5. Slow speech
When we take time to slow down our speech, this automatically helps improve speech fluency. We can slow speech down in a few ways. Here are two examples:
Slow down your speech by adding small pauses between words.
Slow down your speech by elongating vowels and sounds in words.
If you are a parent or caregiver working with your child, be sure to model examples of slow speech in order to help them imitate you.
6. Syllable timed speech
This technique is part of the Westmead Program. Syllable timed team involves saying a sentence with equal stress on each syllable. It's similar to speaking with a metronome.
If you are saying the sentence “I went to the grocery store,” it would be pronounced “I-went-to-the-gro-cer-y-store.”
To prevent your speech from sounding monotonous, make sure that you're still placing appropriate inflection on words. This can be tricky, but you'll get the hang of it over time!
Cancellations are a fluency technique that can be used after a dysfluency, or stutter, has already occurred.
When a dysfluency occurs, pause and take a second to try to identify where the stutter happened in the word. Was it the beginning consonant, or the vowel? Pay attention to your mouth and notice if there's tension anywhere that may have led you to stutter. Try to decrease the tension, then say the word again. Here is a simple breakdown of what to do when using the cancellation technique: