Four Common Myths About Stuttering

From Porky Pig to Mel Tillis, stuttering characters are a part of our pop culture. So are myths about stuttering

Off the top of your head, can you name a myth about stuttering? An easier task than you might think, since almost everything commonly known about the subject is mythical. Sure, we all know what stuttering itself is: it’s a speech disorder characterized by repetitions, stoppages, and prolongations of speech.

What we don’t know, exactly, is what causes it. Most common knowledge about stuttering is, in fact, misperception or just plain guessing. We here at Mythbusters thought it was about time to clear the lines of communication regarding some popular stuttering myths, so here’s the truth about four.

Myth 1: Stuttering is cause by nervousness or stress

This myth about stuttering seems reasonable, since many people who ordinarily have no problems speaking sometimes stutter or misspeak when anxious or stressed out. But true stutterers will stutter in almost any social circumstance, whether they’re nervous or stressed or otherwise.

Admittedly, anxiety can trigger stuttering, or make it worse. But it’s a mistake to assume that people who stutter are constantly nervous or under stress. The causes of stuttering are complex and not entirely understood, and apparently have social, genetic, and physiological causes, as we’ll explore a bit in Myth 2.

Myth 2: Children can pick up a stutter from parents or older siblings who stutter

This myth about stuttering has no truth it at all; you can’t “catch” a stutter anymore than you can catch a broken leg. While the etiology of stuttering isn’t completely understood, contributing factors seem to include neuromuscular development, as well as certain genetic and environmental issues.

Interestingly, family dynamics is one of the environmental factors that can contribute to a stutter. So ultimately, while it’s true that stuttering can run in the family, it’s more a matter of genetics and interaction than actual imitation or “infection.”

Myth 3: Only stupid people stutter

This myth about stuttering might be true if people like Winston Churchill or James Earl Jones were unintelligent, but obviously that’s not the case. Both stuttered when they were younger, and Churchill is considered one of the greatest minds of the modern era. Absolutely no link between stuttering and intelligence exists.

Myth 4: A person can control stuttering if they just try hard enough

Stutterers often have people tell them to “slow down” or “take a deep breath”, but again no evidence supports that this helps with stuttering at all. Either it makes the stutterer more self-conscious, worsening the situation, or the effort to control all the muscles used in speaking just makes speaking all the more difficult.

Your best bet when dealing with a stutterer, especially a child, is to just listen patiently and try to make out what they’re saying as best as you can. Don’t tell them to slow down, and don’t try to speak for them; acting on these and other myths about stuttering can just make the situation worse.