Monday, January 24, 2011

Communication Impacts of Stuttering

We have previously discussed stuttering in terms of its impact on fluency-- namely the smoothness and flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are joined together when speaking. Fluency relates to the mechanics of speech and the ease/rapidity of oral verbal expression. Fluency enables an individual to deliver informational content quickly and with the appearance of expertise. Stuttering, on the other hand, is characterized by breaks in the fluidity of speech in addition to the repetition of parts of speech and, as such, represents a breakdown in the ability to communicate.

We can view interpersonal oral communication as consisting of two parts--namely content (what you say) and style (how you say it). Content involves purely the non-emotional information contained in the words being uttered while style involves the emotional information that is conveyed while speaking.

Consider a fluent person trying to give an oral presentation while juggling three balls in the air. Assuming that the individual does not have a high degree of proficiency with the mechanics of juggling, he may experience difficulty in concentrating on the presentation. This is exactly what happens to a stutterer who has to struggle with the mechanics of talking and is less able to focus on content as well as style.

Stuttering affects the ability, while speaking, to be articulate. Being articulate relates to the mental fluidity in the formulation and expression of thoughts, concepts, and ideas with clarity, eloquence, and effectiveness. Disfluency may hinder the train of thought, impinging negatively on formulation. One's brain in organizing thoughts generally runs faster than one's mouth. However, when one's mouth runs appreciably slower than one's brain, as with stutterers, then the ability to formulate thoughts with clarity during oral communication may be adversely affected.

Communication involves certain nonverbal elements such as voice quality, emotion and speaking style (i.e., paralanguage) as well as rhythm, cadences, intonation, emphases, and stress (prosodic features). These elements, which contribute to style (i.e, emotional content), may be affected by stuttering. The energy devoted to the mechanics of speaking substantially diminishes focus on these non-verbal elements. In addition, halting speech will certainly affect the prosodic features, namely the rhythm, cadence, and intonation of speech, which may distort or effectively eliminate expression of the communication's emotional content.

The social development of a disfluent individual may be adversely affected in the formative years during adolescence and young adulthood. In this time period, social interaction is very important for the formation of personality as the young person experiments with various identities and behaviors. Communication with his or her peer group is very important at this stage. Unfortunately, a person who stutterers may not get much out of this development stage, since his attention may be focused on the mechanics of speech, he may be ostracized somewhat by his peer group, and the disfluency may severely limit his communication capabilities in terms of both content and style. The normal give and take of conversation during which ideas and concepts are bandied about and the ability to think on the fly in the course of a conversation may not be cultivated in a person who stutters.

Given all of these impacts of stuttering, an individual experiencing this ailment in addition to being less fluent, might also be expected to be less articulate and socially skilled.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a dead ringer for my entire life, summed up in a few paragraphs. Don't forget stutterers who use word substitution to avoid blocking. This is extremely mentally taxing. I used to rely on word substitution for most of youth and adolescence. This resulted in using incorrect words on many occasions, or using inappropriate words for the situation, just because they were easier to say.

It is impossible to think about cadences when you are underwater in a block situation.