Char Adams is a Human Interest writer and reporter at PEOPLE. She also writes about her experiences on her blog and vlog, The Stuttering Journalist.
I’m one of the three million people in the United States who stutter. And although about one percent of the world’s population stutters, the nature of the condition has long been misunderstood. Like all stutterers, my speech impediment is characterized by disruptions in my speech, making it difficult for me to talk at times.
I’ve run across a lot of misconceptions about stuttering — here are five common myths:
Myth 1: Nervousness Causes Stuttering
Although the exact cause of stuttering is unknown, researchers consider the condition to be neurological — and not psychological, according to the National Stuttering Association. So, simply being nervous doesn’t make someone stutter. For some stutterers, nervousness may influence the severity of the impediment, but it is not a cause of the condition.
I’ve encountered many people who stutter more severely when nervous, but I don’t experience that. For me, I find that my stutter is pretty unpredictable in any situation, whether I’m nervous or not.
Myth 2: People Who Stutter Aren’t Smart
This is one of the most infuriating misconceptions about stuttering for me. As many relate speech to mental ability, some believe that people who stutter simply aren’t smart or have a mental disability. This isn’t true. According to the British Stammering Association, research shows that people who stutter have the “same range of intelligence” as non-stutterers.
“A person who stammers knows what they want to say but has difficulty getting the words out,” the site states. “So speed of speech should not be confused with speed of thought. A person who stammers will generally think at normal speed.”
Myth 3: People Who Stutter Do It All of the Time
In my experience, my stutter could be very severe in one speaking situation, and I could be completely fluent in another. Stuttering varies widely among people with the speech impediment, according to the NSA.
“It may also vary in the same individual from day to day and depending on the speaking situation,” the NSA website states. “Saying one’s name and speaking to authority figures may be particularly difficult. For some individuals, fatigue, stress, and time pressure can increase their tendency to stutter.”
Myth 4: Stutters Could Speak Fluently If They Tried Hard Enough
There is no consistent, research-based cure for stuttering, the NSA reports. However, many people who stutter participate in speech therapy and support groups as a form of treatment. Stuttering typically starts between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, and early intervention could lead to a complete disappearance of the condition, according to the NSA. However, older stutterers are typically incapable of reversing the condition.
I’ve been a stutterer since I was 9 years old and I’ve gone to speech therapy for most of my life. I’m now 25, and I often use fluency techniques I learned in therapy including speaking slowly, blending one word into another and taking small breaths before speaking — and I even own the Fluency Master, a device hooked to the ear to reduce stuttering.
But as noted on the NSA site, “the cause of stuttering itself is not due to a habit.”
“Because stuttering is a neurological condition, many, if not most, people who stutter as older children or adults will continue to do so—in some fashion—even when they work very hard at changing their speech,” the site states.
Myth 5: All Stutters Are Introverts
Many stutterers opt to hide their impediment or remain silent in some situations, leading people to think they may simply be shy or an introvert. However, just as stuttering impacts people of all ages, races, and genders, it also impacts people with different personality types.
I’ve always been an outspoken extrovert, even with my stutter. From childhood until now, although my stutter is quite severe, I rarely miss a chance to speak my mind or join in social settings.
“Children and adults who stutter often are hesitant to speak up, but they are not otherwise shy by nature,” the NSA website says. Once they come to terms with stuttering, people who stutter can be assertive and outspoken.”