One very common approach to helping people who stutter increase their speech fluency is to teach them to slow down or stretch out their speech.
There is no doubt that this can improve fluency—people simply don’t stutter as much when they speak very slowly or stretch out their syllables. So, you’re probably wondering why we don’t prefer that as a treatment option and why it doesn't show up in any of our clinical resources or trainings for SLPs.
The reason is simple: We don’t favor treatment strategies or speech modifications that result in unnatural-sounding speech, even if they do increase fluency, because they leave the speaker sounding unnatural, and, just as importantly, they reduce the spontaneity of communication. The lack of naturalness is one of the most common complaints that speakers offer when asked about their fluency strategies. People who stutter tell us that they simply, “don’t want to talk that way.” They know that stretching out their syllables can help them be more fluent; it’s just not worth it to many people to be more fluent if it means “sounding funny.”
We have a very simple rule of thumb: We never ask people to use a speaking style that we ourselves would not be willing to use. So, if the strategy you are teaching your clients results in a speaking style that you would not use when ordering your dinner at a restaurant, then chances are good that your clients would not want to use it either. Put differently, “If you don’t want to talk that way, they don’t want to talk that way.”
The reliance on unnatural-sounding speech is actually one of the reasons that relapse rates from some fluency-based therapy approaches are so high. People have trouble maintaining an artificial speaking style, even though it may help them be more fluent. The result is that they end up experiencing a relapse and losing the benefits they had experienced in their fluency.
Rather than getting into an endless cycle of fluent speech / relapse / fluent speech / relapse, which can be disheartening and frustrating, we prefer to help people learn to enhance their fluency in a way that does not result in less-natural-sounding speech.
Does this mean that our clients might be “missing out” on some extra increased fluency that they might gain with artificial-sounding speech approaches? Yes, absolutely. But, it also means that they are more likely to be able to maintain the gains they make in their fluency. And, they are less likely to feel that they haven’t “worked hard enough” when they experience natural stuttering during communication.
Bottom line: when introducing strategies to help your clients increase their speech fluency, strive for techniques that allow them to maintain natural-sounding, more spontaneous speech. They will be happier with the results, and the improvements in fluency are more likely to last over time.
(For an overview of the speech handling strategies that we do prefer, see our free Practical Tips Video Series about Speech Handling Techniques.)