The Iceberg: Talking about Thoughts & Feelings Related to Stuttering

The Iceberg of Stuttering

Stuttering can be described like an iceberg. Stuttering is like an iceberg because there is a small part of it that we can see (or hear), but a big part of stuttering is invisible. When children, teens, and adults stutter, there are some things that listeners can see: repetitions of sounds, stretching sounds out, getting stuck on words, and physical tension are some examples. These are the parts of the iceberg above the surface. 

There are a lot of things that listeners may not see, though. The child, teen, or adult may feel shame, fear, or embarrassment about their stuttering. They might be doing things like switching words to avoid getting stuck on a certain word or avoid talking in certain situations. They may be thinking about how others will react or view them if they stutter. These are the parts of the iceberg below the surface, and they can be a much bigger part of stuttering that others don’t see or know about. 

The ABCs of Stuttering

When we talk about stuttering with children, teens, and adults, it’s important to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings beneath the surface and not just focus on what can be seen above the surface.

A helpful way to think about this is to remember the ABCs of stuttering: 

  1. Affective (what the person who stutters feels)
  2. Behavior (what the person does or doesn’t do because they stutter) 
  3. Cognitive (what the person thinks about themselves, others, and their stuttering)

All of these elements should be considered to support children, teens, or adults who stutter in their communication, not just the visible stuttering behaviors that others can observe.  

Addressing Thoughts and Feelings

How can we address thoughts and feelings surrounding stuttering to get at the part of the iceberg that’s below the surface? This is a big question, and it is important to consult a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to understand, develop, and practice ways to approach this topic in a way that’s appropriate for a child, teen, or adult who stutters. Here are some ways a speech-language pathologist may train clients and families to address thoughts and feelings around stuttering:

  1. Asking the child, teen, or adult to draw his/her own iceberg and/or talk about what they notice is above vs. beneath the surface.
  2. Listening to and focusing on what the child, teen, or adult is saying, not how the person is saying it.
  3. Responding calmly and objectively to stuttering when it occurs. 
  4. Reassuring & encouraging the person who stutters by saying things like “I want to hear what you have to say, no matter how you say it,” or “It’s okay if you stutter. I’m still going to be here and listen to you.”
  5. Labeling behaviors and feelings around stuttering. For example, if a child has a very long block, afterward, you could say, “You were stuck for a long time there. That must be frustrating! I’m so glad that you told me what you wanted to say anyway.”
  6. Affirming emotions expressed. For example, if a child says, “I wish I could talk like other kids,” responding with, “it must be upsetting sometimes when you can’t say things the way you want to. You do a good job of trying though, and I like it when you do that.” (Logan &Yaruss, 1999).
  7. Reframing thoughts, reactions to stuttering, and experiences. For example, if a child says, “I always stutter,” responding with “You stutter on some words, and I hear you say lots of other words that come out easily.”
  8. Talking openly with the child, teen, or adult about his/her stuttering to reduce fear surrounding it.
  9. Modeling ways for them to self-advocate and assert how they want listeners to respond. 

Resources

Tips for talking to a child or person who stutters: 

https://www.stutteringhelp.org/7-tips-talking-your-child-0

https://www.stutteringhelp.org/6-tips-speaking-someone-who-stutters-0

Stuttering myths and facts:

https://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/myths-beliefs-and-straight-talk

https://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/myths-about-stuttering-0

For more information and resources on stuttering, explore the organizations listed below.

Stuttering Foundation:https://www.stutteringhelp.org/

National Stuttering Association:https://westutter.org/

FRIENDS:https://www.friendswhostutter.org/

Stuttering Association for the Young:https://www.say.org/

-Ian Quillen, M.S., CCC-SLP

References

Logan Kenneth J., & Yaruss J. Scott. (1999). Helping Parents Address Attitudinal and Emotional Factors With Young Children Who Stutter.Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders,26(Spring), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.1044/cicsd_26_S_69

Sheehan, Joseph G. (1970.) STUTTERING: Research and Therapy. Harper and Row. NY

Zebrowski, P. M., & Schum, R. L. (1993). Counseling Parents of Children Who Stutter.American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology,2(2), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360.0202.65

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