population stutters, current estimates put that total in the United States at around 3 million. Stuttering is a highly variable speech disorder. People stutter more in some situations and less in other situations. It is often hard to figure out what causes the changes from situation to situation. This variability adds to the mystery and frustration surrounding stuttering and makes it harder for a person who stutters to know how to deal with his or her speaking difficulties.
This can best be explained by the “iceberg theory” created by Dr. Joseph Sheehan and Vivian Sheehan at the UCLA Speech Therapy Program in the late 1980s. The “iceberg theory” according to the Sheehan’s is that stuttering is 90% below the surface, meaning the emotional baggage that is carried around to hide the stuttering and the shame associated with it. The remaining 10% of the stuttering is above the surface for all to see. If a stutterer’s goal is to overcome fear, he or she must get the upper hand by raising more of the iceberg out of the water.
There are very limited or even common experiences shared between fluent and dysfluent people. The reason there is so little in common about the act of speaking is due to the widely different experiences, expectations, and results of speaking. The fluent person expects to be understood and successful as they speak. The process of speech is so inconsequential they rarely remember how they said what they said. Their self image as a communicator is formed by how people respond to what they have said.
In contrast, a person who stutters expects not to be understood. They expect to be unsuccessful every time. This becomes their belief system, deeply ingrained into their cell memory. Their self image as a communicator is based on their inability to speak and they expect to be evaluated not by what they said, but by how difficult it was for them to say it. Every moment of every day the internal noise replays like a recorder exacerbating the anxieties, because every time he and she attempt to share their thoughts, they know that trouble will most often lie ahead as they speak and attempt to express themselves.
It is really difficult to appreciate just how much a person who stutters is attempting to process in addition to the words of what they are truly trying to say. A great deal of energy is expended in coping with the momentary physiological speech dysfunction. Cognitive energy is given to gauging reactions, both internally and externally, about what’s going on at that given moment. All the while, still more effort is being applied to coping and struggling behaviors about an awkward exchange or for baffling the listener by resorting to easier to say words than the ones the stutterer would actually desire and really want to say.