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Knowing the Signs of a Cluttering Speech Disorder

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Children’s Speech Therapy Center

Dear Children’s Speech Therapy Center,

What is cluttering? Is that another word for stuttering?

— Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Cluttering is a fluency disorder most notable for an abnormal speaking rate. It is not another word for stuttering. People often describe cluttering as ‘machine-gun’ speech, since it usually is perceived as jerky or fast speech. Nevertheless, this is not the only tell-tale sign of cluttering, and most certainly not the only symptom.

A formal definition states that it is, “…a fluency disorder wherein segments of conversation in the speaker’s native language typically are perceived as too fast overall, too irregular, or both. The segments of rapid and/or irregular speech rate must further be accompanied by one or more of the following: (a) excessive “normal” disfluencies; (b) excessive collapsing or deletion of syllables; and/or (c) abnormal pauses, syllable stress, or speech rhythm.” (St. Louis & Schulte, in press).

Let’s break these symptoms down further:

(a) When a child is exhibiting “normal” or typical disfluencies, this may include whole word repetitions, numerous false starts, filler words (e.g. ‘um,’ ‘uh’), and interjections. Atypical disfluencies which are seen in a person with a stuttering disorder include part-word repetitions (e.g. c-c-car), prolongations (e.g. holding out a sound in a word), and blocks (i.e. when an interruption of airflow occurs; we get ‘stuck’).

(b) Collapsing or deleting syllables is actually a common phonological process young children do as they begin to acquire and develop language. It is expected that by age 2.5 the child will remediate her/his error pattern. If this does not happen, it may indicate either an articulation/phonological disorder or a cluttering disorder if these errors occur in combination with some of the other symptoms noted here. It is best to schedule an appointment for an evaluation to receive an accurate diagnosis.

(c) Abnormal pauses, syllable stress, or speech rhythm may often cause people to miscomprehend or have difficulty understanding what the person who clutters is saying. These also include things like a rapid rate of speech, and/or irregular rate of speech. An irregular rate of speech may result in pausing at inappropriate places, and may cause speech to feel “choppy.”

Aside from these noted symptoms, it is also common that the person who clutters demonstrates poor self-awareness, and therefore they may have inadequate self-monitoring skills.

Lastly, a clutterer may also demonstrate co-existing disorder such as the following:

• Stuttering
• Articulation
• Learning difficulties (e.g. reading, writing text)

Ultimately, it is important for the clinician to perform a dynamic assessment of the child, addressing multiple areas of speech and language or to refer to appropriate professionals for further investigation (e.g. ADHD/ADD would be diagnosed by a mental health professional or a primary care provider, and not by a speech therapist).

Although there is no known ‘cure’ for cluttering, there are compensatory strategies that your child or teen’s speech-language pathologist can introduce them to. Building self-awareness nonetheless, will be key in most treatment scenarios. Since cluttering is a variable disorder, there is no set treatment plan. Therefore, each plan must be individualized according to each person’s needs. Treatment may include providing strategies for any disfluencies present, discussing using a slow rate of speech and speaking in thought groups (i.e. where we naturally take a breath or a pause when speaking), over-articulating to address syllable deletion and prosody errors (i.e. speech rhythm, melody), and self-monitoring by providing auditory (e.g. recordings) and visual (e.g. video, writing) feedback throughout the session.

Cluttering is a complex disorder; therefore, it is best to consult with a certified speech-language pathologist if there are any concerns. Feel free to contact our office with any questions or concerns, or to set up an evaluation for your young child or teen.

Ioana Barbu, M.A. CCC-SLP


Children’s Speech Therapy Center (CSTC) is a well-known private practice specializing in pediatric speech therapy and conveniently located in Ashburn, VA. When your child needs a speech and language professional, navigating all your options can be time-consuming and frustrating!

Let Children’s Speech Therapy Center help! Their team provides diagnostic and therapeutic services including screenings, evaluations, and therapy for all ages, from infancy to adolescence. From more routine challenges to complex conditions, their team of licensed and accredited speech language pathologists are prepared to help with your child's unique speech and language needs.

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