Flying Under the Radar?

I was never diagnosed with stuttering, but I am learning more about it now. I was wondering if it was possible to become an adult with mild stuttering and to never be diagnosed? I have noticed a lot more partial word repetitions and some whole-word repetitions during both high pressured conversations in class and low-pressure situations with friends. Is it common for someone with a mild stutter to fly under the radar or to develop it later in life?

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Flying Under the Radar? — 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for being willing to share such a personal situation with the rest of us. While what you’re asking about is not the most common scenario, it is definitely within the realm of possibility. I see two questions here: 1) Did you stutter all along and have it just “fly under the radar” throughout your childhood? 2) Alternately, have you perhaps developed a late-onset fluency disorder?

    The reason I suggest #2 as a possibility is that you mentioned noticing the disfluencies more recently and under certain speaking situations. Do you (or any family members) have any recollection of you exhibiting disfluencies as a child? If not, #2 might be more likely. In either case, I’d suggest finding an SLP with experience in stuttering and getting an evaluation. If you have a college or university in your area, that might be a good place to start, if they have a speech and language clinic. Or, the NSA (National Stuttering Association) and SFA (Stuttering Foundation of America) offer resources for locating SLPs with experience in stuttering.

    In the meantime, remember that whole word disfluencies are not usually considered “stuttered-like” disfluencies, as many fluent speakers exhibit these at least occasionally. Part-repetitions (i.e., sound and syllable repetitions) are considered stuttered-like, but it also depends on how many extra units the speaker produces. For example, do you usually repeat part of a word one or two extra times, or several times? That would be another important variable, diagnostically.

    Best wishes to you in your pursuit, and please try not to worry about this too much. As a PWS who has stuttered since age 5, I’ve had many years to get used to my speech disorder. However, I can only imagine how stressful it must be to realize that you might be exhibiting symptoms of a speech disorder suddenly as an adult. I think a thorough speech-language evaluation will help you get some answers and might put your mind at ease. Hang in there!!

  2. Just to add 1 thing to Paul’s excellent response: From your description, it sounds like these disfluencies just sort of sneak up on you and then you are momentarily held up while talking. Is that right? That is, there is no sense that control is lost, i.e., that you don’t know when you will be able to complete the word? If that is the case, it does not sound like stuttering, unless it’s really early in the onset process. You said you are learning about stuttering now. Are you a CSD student? I am asking because I have answered such questions of students before. It’s OK to bring your concerns to a professor or supervisor, if you haven’t already. Best of luck.

  3. Haley,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have heard your story several times through my involvement in the self-help community and through my clinical work. In some examples, the person who stutters thinks that they are “an imposter”, which is usually not the case. I have seen “mild” stuttering exhibited by these individuals and while attending self-help groups, most others at the group talk about how they wish they could control their stuttering like the mild symptom person. Afterwards, I have heard these “mild” PWS talk about how much they suffer because it seems like “it’s no big deal” to most others. They often feel like they are not part of the stuttering community because they do not stutter enough. I really feel empathy for these individuals because they often do not know where to go or where to seek treatment. These individuals fit so well into the classic iceberg analogy where the majority of symptoms may be “below the surface”. I can assure you that you are not alone! By the way, there is a “covert stuttering” Yahoo group that may be able to shed some insight.

    From a theoretical perspective, you may have reached the point where your environmental demands have exceeded your capacity for fluent speech. I noticed that you talked about high-pressured situations in class. I am assuming that this is likely college classes where you are expected to be an active participant in class, whether you want to be or not. This can indeed bring about higher anxiety, fear, etc. We know that your emotional state can impact your physical performance. That may be the case with your speech. As for the casual conversation with friends, the increase in stuttering can be your reaction to the other stuttering.

    By no means am I trying to diagnose you. Much more information is needed. I agree with what Paul said about getting more information. Late onset or acquired stuttering can exist for many reasons including a sever emotional trauma or a physical trauma. I think a skilled speech-language pathologist should consider those possibilities as well.

    In conclusion, your case is a very interesting one, but I can assure you that your description is one that has shared by others. You are not alone!

    I wish you good fortune on your journey and invite you to respond to this conversation or contact me off-line.

    Sincerely,

    John Tetnowski

  4. Haley:
    I agree with the others that if you are concerned with your disfluent speech you should either talk to someone familiar with stuttering or undergo an evaluation. FYI, it is not uncommon for people who don’t stutter (PWDS) to de disfluent at times, especially when fatigued, excited, or when speaking in front of groups. Years ago, a colleague and I examined the speech of PWDS (college students with no history of fluency issues). What we found was not pretty! The frequency of disfluencies varied widely from one speaker to the next and from one context to the next. Most disfluencies were filled pauses (“um,” “uh”), extraneous words (“like,” “you know”), and extraneous sounds (clicks, sniffs, etc.). All 78 speakers exhibited these nonstutter-like disfluencies. All but one of the 78 subjects also exhibited a minimal number of stutter-like disfluencies (SLD), mostly single syllable repetitions. None of the subjects displayed any tension when producing SLDs. In addition, the speakers (and their listeners) showed no awareness of the disfluencies being produced. Our conclusion was, if you’re going to talk, you’re going to be disfluent (at times). In your situation it is important to ask yourself if you feel a sense of loss of control when you’re disfluent (as mentioned by Dale). That is a key element of stuttering. In my own experience as a PWDS, I am often highly disfluent (mostly single syllable repetitions and an occasional prolongation), but I have no sense of loss of control nor do I use excessive tension. It is not uncommon that I am more disfluent than some of the PWS I work with, but I do not experience loss of control and I do not perceive the disfluencies I use as being problematic. I hope this is helpful. If you want more information, please contact me at cosborne@uwsp.edu .

  5. Hello,

    I think most everything has been said at this point. I have certainly had clients report to me that they have always known that their speech was different and even were concerned about it, but no one ever put a “name” on it. Since your stuttering has always been more mild, at least the surface or visible aspects, I bet no one every truly knew what you were going through.

    Last year in my clinic, two clients came to me sharing that they just realized that what they had experienced, on a very deep level for many years, was stuttering. Both shared that it was almost a relief because they always wondered why talking was so hard and why sometimes they simply could not get words out. Both were able to do great things in therapy, and will most likely continue to make these changes long term. For these folks, and several others I have met over the years, the surface features such as the repeating of sounds, words, and other things that may be noticeable, are just a part of the experience.

    Good luck to you.