Some children, as well as adults, punctuate their speech with “um’s” and “ah’s” to their discomfort and those around them. I am often asked:
- Are repetitions of words and phrases a form of stuttering?
- Can anything help people who can’t seem to get their words out?
“Ums” and “ahs” can be found at times in most people’s speech, but for some people this becomes a constant pattern. As a speech pathologist I’ve heard many people describe their own speech or the speech of others as stammering or stuttering. But are there really so many stutterers in the world?
Approximately one percent of the adult population can be termed true “stutterers.” A stutterer’s speech is notable for repetitions or prolongations of sounds, especially at the beginning of a word, but also within a sentence. Facial characteristics of eye blinking, grimacing or other physical gestures can accompany stuttering. Most stutterers exhibit this pattern beginning in childhood but the onset may begin in early adolescence. A speech pathologist will be able to diagnose stuttering, which differs in intensity and characteristics from normal dysfluency.
- Why do some people seem to have difficulty finishing a sentence?
“Um’s” and “ahs”, as well as repetions of words and phrases, function as “fillers” for both children and adults. Expressing one’s ideas in a novel string of words is actually rather miraculous. Of all species, only human beings are unique for the ability to find words and create sentences full of meaning and variety. For some people, this process does not come so easily.
Both children and adults can create more fluent speech by planning their sentences, focusing on the ideas they want to convey, taking time to generate words and sentences, and using silent pausing rather than filling space with “um’s”, “ahs” or repetitions.
For individuals who find modifying their speech a difficult task, therapy for fluent speaking will make a critical difference. Becoming a fluent speaker can become a gratifying means of expressing oneself — satisying for the speaker and for those who are listening.
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