Alternative Learning Approaches for Young People Affected with Stuttering

B. A. Rohrbach, Captain Karaoke®, Musicologist 
Linguistic Society of America 
Florida Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists 
June 27th, 2017

Table of Contents

  • Abstract 
  • Alternative Learning Approaches for Young People Affected With Stuttering 
  • Long Time Treatment Techniques 
  • Breakthrough 
  • A Better Alternative 
  • References


Stuttering is a speech disorder primarily characterised by repeated or prolonged articulatory and phonatory actions that result in sound and syllable repetition, audible and inaudible sound prolongation, and broken words, which are generally attributed to disruption of the respiratory, phonatory system and/or articulatory movements as well as the co-ordination of these movements which is required for fluent speech production. This paper discusses the various therapy techniques that have been employed to help the affected individuals deal with this problem, it also illuminates on examples of persons who have benefited from the use of songs, especially rap songs to overcome the problem of stuttering. Above all, it explains the applicability of an alternative, more involving and efficient techniques that could be used to help in solving the stuttering problem in children all the way to adults, where necessary.

Alternative Learning Approaches for Young People Affected with Stuttering

Stuttering is a speech disorder primarily characterised by repeated or prolonged articulatory and phonatory actions that result in sound and syllable repetition, audible and inaudible sound prolongation, and broken words, which are generally attributed to disruption of the respiratory, phonatory and/or arti9culatory movements as well as the co-ordination of these movements which is required for fluent speech production. 

Stuttering as a speech disorder has been known to be a problem of emotional difficulties (Hahn, 2003) that can be traced to childhood upbringing or the environmental status of the stammered as they grow, beginning with their early parts of life as children and later as adults. Scientifically, it has been established that these individuals present with an out of the ordinary characteristics in their early childhood development in processes such as breathing, suckling and chewing. Therefore, hallmarks of stuttering which are experienced in the life of these children does contribute to the same set of tissues that are involved in speech. 

As a neurological disorder, it is normally observed as barrier imposed on the brain’s cortex and motor control centres by the subconscious mind that is always modified and trimmed by the individual’s environment, and therefore impairing their ability to control motor functions of speech. Generally, this can be summarized as a condition that results from an upbringing emotional barrier, as illustrated above. Some of the therapies (Hahn, 2003) that have been developed are basically pointed towards the breaking of the emotional barrier, adjustment of the persons to the situation in their current environments, and finally trying to correct their stuttering status.

Long Time Treatment Techniques

Documentation and research suggestions on the treatment of stuttering began quite long ago when methods such as Mercuriali’s advice against bathing the head of the stuttering child, Diefferibach’s tongue surgery and Bacon’s more enjoyable suggestion of warming up the tongue with a moderate amount of wine were developed. (Ludo M. et. al., 2004). However, more rigorous and scientific approaches rather that the intuitive theories have been used to study both the clinical and theoretical aspects of stuttering. (Ludo M. et. al., 2004). Still, the core origin of the disorder remains a social stigma. 

The most common method of managing and reducing the incidences of stuttering in patients is the use of psychotherapy where the therapist employs psychoanalysis through catharsis or ‘talking out’ method as described by Freud. (Hahn, 2003). This method involves a detailed analysis of the patient’s immediate environment, the family members as well as the relatives may be involved in this study, and their co-operation is paramount to ensure the success of the therapy technique. The therapist then determines the causes of oppression that are then managed accordingly and the patient encouraged and advised on the most productive ways to overcome the emotional barrier. 

There are a lot of other therapy programs that have been designed which use techniques primarily aimed at modifying speech output by employing reduction in overt signature events. (Vikram N. & Joseph K., 2002). The use of these techniques for extended periods of time has proven to solve the stuttering problem automatically, normally and effortlessly. (Vikram N. & Joseph K., 2002).


One of the designed speech programs is the use of songs to practice emotional outflow as well as utilize it as a corrective mechanism to enhance speech coordination. Rapping has always been preferred and the song ‘The Talking Blues’ has been in use since the early 1930s. There are several significant breakthroughs in the use of speech therapy that are worth mentioning; these include the event of Lazarus Arbos’ Music edition where he started with a stammer but later resolved, and more significantly, the speech recovery of the Congress lady Gabby Gifford. (Holly, 2017). The Lidcombe Program from Australia has shown success for speech pathologists to work with afflicted children in sessions with their parent or parents. An essential component goal of the Lidcombe Program is parental verbal contingencies to accomplish stutter-free speech. Another important breakthrough, was shown in the Parade Magazine (June 25, 2017), with Ed Sheeran, a Grammy award singer, is described to have overcome his stuttering when he was young by rapping to the Eminem album, ‘The Marshal Mathers LP’. 

Regarding the given examples, our young people with similar speech problems can be redeemed using thematically positive rap songs which they can perform at school or to an appreciative audience to boost their confidence. A vocal coach can help them construct rap songs that describe their condition or emotional status in a way that they can accept who they are and believed that the condition can at least be corrected.

A Better Alternative

In a study curried out by Amy J and colleagues on the effectiveness of controlled breathing techniques for stuttering management in children, (Amy J. et. al., 2000), in which they included awareness training, competing response training, and social support, they noticed that the procedure could achieve could achieve a 3% reduction in the amount of stuttering. (Amy J. et. al., 2000). One of the main purposes of Singing Plus – Word Skillz® was to develop rap songs that have therapeutic value to improve speech at a higher success rate, but in the same way that singing has been proven to be effective in treating stuttering, for people of all ages. 

In this case, familiar early rap songs from the 1980s and 1990s that are positive and motivating are favoured. Each rap song is developed as a ‘karaoke’ style video where the lyrics are printed on memory cards, entitled Word Skillz® cards. The front side of the card contains the lyrics of each song on the custom DVD (No computer is necessary). The back side of the card has the same song listed, with key words missing, to test the skill level of each person. The patient is then expected to sing along (or speak) the music as they fill in the missing parts. Since music has a history of activating various parts of the brain, either through listening or participation or both, this therapy technique therefore also functions to sharpen the cognitive skills of the patient as well as help them overcome the emotional barrier by sharing with colleagues who are of the same status, and above all, experience more fun while facing their problems and getting solutions. 

The Singing Plus – Word Skillz® with memory card session facilitators are designed to complement contemporary speech language therapy and music therapy sessions, to observe mindfulness at all times, to ensure reduced avoidance of the clients, increased emotional control with relation to the clients, and acceptance in addition to improved sensory – perceptual processing as well as attenuated regulative skills (Boyle, 2011) which are key in successful long-term stuttering management on both psychosocial and sensory motor level. 
In conclusion, whichever techniques may be developed to help these children solve the problem of stuttering as is the case of Singing Plus – Word Skillz®, the first step to be made by every therapist or parent/guardian in the exercise, is to convince the child to initiate the process and want to succeed. By this, the child should accept their condition, and admit that they need to change (Fraser, 2007), as well as totally commit to achieve the change, as captured in a statement by Freud; 

 ‘a valuable precondition for a successful therapy is the deep inner conviction of the stutterer on the manageability of their disorder, combined with an inner fighting spirit and a readiness to undergo hardship and deprivation needed, hopelessness, pessimists and passivity being the deadliest foes to self-improvement’

(Freud) in (Fraser, 2007)


Amy J. et. al. (2000). Brief Explanation of Amplified Habit Reversal To Treat Stuttering in Children. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry , 289-302. 
Anonymous, (2008), Manual for the Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering Intervention,, 1-13. 
Boyle, M. P. (2011). Mindfulness in Stuttering Therapy: A Tutorial for Speech Language Pathologists. Journal of Fluency Disorders . 
Fraser, M. (2007). Self-Therapy for The Stutterer. Walnut: The Stuttering Foundation. 
Hahn, E. F. (2003). Stuttering: Significant theories and Therapies. California: Stanford University Press. 
Holly, F. (2017). Singing Without A Stutter: Music As A Speech Therapy Tool. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from Speech Buddy: 
Ludo M. et. al. (2004). A Theoretical Model of Stuttering. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders , 105-106. 
Vikram N. & Joseph K. (2002). Pseudofluency in Adults Who Stutter: The Illusory Outcome of Therapy. Sage Journals .