What Is Cluttering, and How Is It Different from Stuttering?Heather Gross, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speaking in rapid bursts. Repeating words. Losing your train of thought while you talk. They’re all possible signs of cluttering, a fluency disorder that’s often misunderstood.
Fluency refers to the flow of speech, such as the rate at which we talk and the continuity and smoothness in our speech. If someone has a fluency disorder, they experience interruptions in their flow of speaking. They may speak too slowly or quickly, repeat sounds or words, or experience blocks. One common fluency disorder is stuttering.
Cluttering can coexist with stuttering, or it can be present on its own. So, if you or your child is struggling with fluency, how do you know if it’s stuttering, cluttering, or both? Let’s take a closer look at what cluttering is, how it differs from stuttering, and how it’s treated.
What is cluttering?
Cluttering is a fluency disorder that causes rapid, unclear, or disorganized speech. Some common characteristics of cluttering can include the following:
Rapid speech that comes out in quick bursts
Excessive interruptions in speech, called disfluencies
Indistinct, “mumbling” speech
Speech articulation errors, such as making longer words sound shorter (for example, “wuffel” for “wonderful”) or omitting words from a phrase altogether
Difficulty organizing thoughts or getting to the point, which makes it hard for listeners to follow along
Inconsistent rate or rhythm of speech
Hesitations and revisions in speech (“I'm going for a...out to dinner.")
Limited awareness of how one’s speech sounds
There are other difficulties that may exist along with cluttering, such as:
Difficulties with handwriting
Difficulty maintaining attention for an extended amount of time
Difficulty with typing words accurately
Auditory processing disorder
How is cluttering different from stuttering?
Cluttering affects all four primary aspects of communication: articulation, language, voice, and fluency. Stuttering relates only to speech fluency.
Those who struggle with cluttering may not be aware of their speech disorder, whereas those who stutter are often hyper-aware of their condition. Those who clutter often have a tough time organizing their thoughts. However, with stuttering, the person often knows exactly what they want to say. They “just can’t get it out.”
Here’s an example of cluttering: “At school today, I…my, uh…friend…oh wait…at school, my friend…he brought a g-g-game for us to watch…I mean play.”
Compare that to an example of stuttering: “At s-s-s-chool t-t-today, m-m-my ffffriend b-b-b-rrrought a game for us to p-p-p-play.”
Here are other key differences between stuttering and cluttering:
Characteristics of stuttering
Your speech is less fluent with strang
Repetition of words may increase your stuttering
Sound repetitions are common
You likely don’t have language difficulties, such as problems with word finding, grammar, organization, and narrative skills
You don’t have many problems with articulation, or correctly pronouncing speech sounds
Characteristics of cluttering
Your speech is often more fluent with strangers
Repetition of words may improve your fluency
Hesitations and revisions of speech are more common
You’re more likely to have language problems
You often have articulation errors
How common is cluttering?
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, developmental stuttering affects 1% of the U.S. population, which is more than 3 million people. Cluttering is more rare.
Although more research is needed in this area, studies suggest that about one-third of children and adults who stutter also have at least one component of cluttering. One preliminary study estimated the rate of cluttering to be between 1.1% and 1.2% of school-age children.
How is cluttering diagnosed?
It’s not always easy to tell the difference between stuttering and cluttering. That’s why it’s important to receive a diagnosis from a speech-language pathologist. During your first session, the speech therapist will assess your speech clarity, language organization, vocal quality, and speech fluency. A cluttering diagnosis is based on a set of criteria, and it involves differentiating cluttering from other communication disorders that may be making speech a challenge.
Can speech therapy help with cluttering?
Yes! Cluttering can be improved with adjustments to your rate of speech and techniques to improve your speech clarity. Working with a speech-language pathologist who specializes in fluency can make a big difference. Speech therapy sessions may focus on the following:
Techniques to help slow your speech
Techniques to increase your speech fluency
Goals that focus on your articulation and pronunciation skills
Improving your self-awareness and self-monitoring skills
Speech sessions may also focus on increasing language skills if this is an area of concern.
Your motivation to adjust your speech, as well as how often you practice and use the strategies you’re learning, are huge factors in how quickly you’ll see progress. Therapy takes practice! However, there are many techniques to help a person who clutters. The goal is to help you speak with freedom and ease. Each individual’s experience with cluttering is unique. A speech-language pathologist will create an individualized plan to help you or your child communicate more clearly! In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about cluttering, check out The International Cluttering Association, The Stuttering Foundation, and The National Stuttering Association.