How to Stop Stuttering

A Look into Stuttering and How HCRI Therapy Successfully Treats It

What is Stuttering?

Stuttering, sometimes referred to as stammering, is one of humankind's most misunderstood and difficult-to-treat disorders. Individuals who stutter experience involuntary disruptions in their flow of speech, which impacts their ability to speak fluently and effectively communicate in everyday situations. 

Stuttering is characterized by repetition of sounds, syllables, or words (as with “my-my-my-my house”); prolongation of sounds (like “n-n-n-no”); and blocks when no sound is produced. These speech characteristics may be accompanied by overt physical behaviors, such as rapid eye blinks, facial twitches or tremors of the lips.

Individuals who stutter are just like everyone else except they have difficulty speaking. They know exactly what they want to say and the words they want to use. Yet, they struggle getting their words to flow like fluent speakers. As a result, people who stutter face daily communication challenges in the workplace, in the classroom, and in social settings. Moreover, stuttering can hinder a person’s career choices, earnings potential, and quality of life.

Incidence of Stuttering

Stuttering affects about one percent of the population. That translates into more than three million individuals across the U.S. and 67 million worldwide. The condition affects about 4 to 5 percent of young children and occurs when their speech and language skills are developing. Approximately 75% of young children outgrow the problem by the age of 12.


Stuttering affects four times as many males as females. The type and severity of stuttering varies by individual – and the condition may change in intensity, based on the day and speaking situation.

Causes of Stuttering

Stuttering may be caused by one or a variety of factors, including the following.


  • Developmental: As noted earlier, stuttering may occur in young children while they are learning to speak – and unable to keep pace with their verbal needs. Children may also stutter because of other language, speech and developmental delays.  
  • Genetic: According to research on the genetics of stuttering by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in partnership with Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI), genetics plays a role in about 20 percent of stuttering cases. Starting in 2010, NIDCD and HCRI researchers identified four different gene mutations that are associated with stuttering. Subsequent studies have led to new insights into the role genetics plays in stuttering, as well as how the condition may be treated in the future.  
  • Brain Function: Research has shown that blood flow in the two hemispheres of the brain is different when stutterers are compared with fluent speakers. The initial implication was that these differences were involved as a causal factor in stuttering. However, additional research has shown that the brain differences diminished after a behavioral therapy treatment for stuttering. There is a “chicken and egg” problem here. Did the brain change as a result of the stuttering, or did brain factors produce stuttering? The manner in which the brain is involved in stuttering is not yet clear. 
  • Brain Insults: Stuttering may develop in individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, head trauma or stroke. In these situations, the brain may have trouble coordinating different regions of the brain that are engaged with speech.

One of the myths surrounding stuttering is that the condition is psychologically grounded. While emotional factors often accompany stuttering, they are not the cause.

How to Stop Stuttering

While there is no known cure for stuttering, help is available to control it. There are different options to help remedy stuttering. These range from traditional speech therapies and behavioral immersion programs to electronic devices and self-help groups. Yet, not all therapy choices are equally effective.


For this reason, individuals seeking help for stuttering should investigate a number of therapy approaches and providers before making a treatment decision. Following are questions to ask when considering stuttering treatment.


Questions for Evaluating Stuttering Therapy Options

Depth and Breadth of Experience

  • Does the provider exclusively work with issues related to stuttering?
  • How long has the provider been administering stuttering therapy to clients?
  • What are the credentials of the provider?
  • How many stuttering clients have been served?

Treatment Approach

  • What is the provider’s stuttering treatment methodology?
  • What is the length of treatment?
  • What is the cost of treatment?
  • What is the therapy dropout rate?

Stuttering Therapy Success Rate

  • What percentage of clients achieves fluency at the conclusion of treatment?
  • What are the longer term therapy results?
  • What percentage of clients would recommend the provider’s treatment to others?

How HCRI Transformed the Understanding and Treatment of Stuttering

Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and psychology professor, founded nonprofit HCRI in 1972 to investigate stuttering using principles of science and to find new ways to effectively treat it. Research led by Dr. Webster yielded discoveries that dispelled long-standing notions about stuttering and its treatment.  


Pioneering Research and Findings

  • HCRI research demonstrated that stuttering is a physically based condition – and not emotionally or mentally derived. The repetitions, prolongations and voice blockages associated with stuttering happen before a syllable is ever uttered. Faulty muscle movements of the vocal tract give rise to the speech distortions of stuttering.
  • Further analysis led to the identification of precise muscle behaviors required to correct misbehaving muscles and enable an individual to speak fluently. These discoveries represented a dramatic change in how to view and treat stuttering.


If a stuttering therapy approach isn’t specifically designed to change speech-muscle patterns, the chance of its lasting effectiveness is diminished, according to Dr. Webster.


From Discoveries to Therapy Application

To create a therapy program that helps persons learn how to stop stuttering and habituate new, speech-muscle movements, Dr. Webster and his HCRI team applied principles of learning to identify a step-by-step treatment protocol over a 12-day period. Clients were taught by specially trained clinicians how to address misbehaving speech muscles that give rise to stuttering and replace them with new muscle behaviors that generate fluency. Customized training tools and interactive therapy technology were also developed to make the learning of new fluency skills easier and long lasting.


HCRI Stuttering Therapy Outcomes

Research demonstrates that 93% of clients achieve fluent speech by the end of their 12-day therapy program. When evaluated two years later, 75% retained normal fluency. These data are from a large-scale evaluation study, which is documented in Chapter 11 of the book, From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief.

HCRI's Focus on Therapy Excellence

Now in its third generation, the HCRI stuttering therapy program is called Hollins Fluency System III: High Definition Speech Reconstruction for Stuttering. The HCRI team constantly studies the program structure, the instruction sets, the electronic components of the system, and the clinician instructions and interactions with clients. If a weakness in performance within any component of the system is found, it is isolated, studied, and corrected. When opportunities are uncovered that elevate the therapy experience and outcomes, enhancements are made.


At HCRI, the focus is on continually strengthening the stuttering therapy program. Therapy is validated by the positive fluency results obtained with literally thousands of persons who stutter.

How HCRI Stuttering Therapy Compares

In a survey of 203 adults who stutter, respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of stuttering treatments in which they participated, based on excellent, good, moderate, fair or poor fluency outcomes.


The chart here illustrates how HCRI’s 12-day stuttering therapy compared to other approaches.  (Note that the therapy category, HCRI “Copies,” refers to treatment programs that claim to be like HCRI but are not.)

Comprehensive After-Therapy Support

In addition to demonstrated therapy results, HCRI provides post-therapy support for each participant. While most clients do not require additional help, some benefit from taking advantage of the center’s alumni offerings. These include:


  • Clinician support via phone and email – for life
  • FluencyNet subscription to HCRI’s web-based practice system
  • Voice Monitor app for the iPhone that serves as a “clinician in your pocket” for fluency practice
  • Alumni refresher and tune-up programs
  • Stuttering therapy manuals
  • Fluency practice groups with other HCRI alumni

Unmatched Quality and Sophistication

For a direct path to controlling stuttering and enhancing quality of life through fluency, HCRI provides a powerful, proven treatment that is:


1. Delivered within a fixed time frame of 12 days;

2. Provided with a known therapy cost; and,

3. Presented with a known probability of both short-term and long-term fluency outcomes.


HCRI provides a one-of-a-kind system for teaching persons how to stop stuttering and bringing robust, fluent speech to those who need help. Extensive data validates the effectiveness of the institute’s treatment for stuttering. Moreover, HCRI clinicians work with more persons who stutter in a year than most clinicians are likely to see in a professional lifetime.

Who Attends HCRI Therapy?

HCRI’s 12-day stuttering therapy is designed for adult and teen participants. Treatment is successful with stuttering types that range from mild to severe. Clients come to the Virginia stuttering therapy center from across the U.S. and 50 countries. HCRI has treated more than 6,700 individuals who stutter.


Therapy participants represent all walks of life and include teachers, business professionals, students, athletes, broadcasters, engineers, musicians, doctors, military personnel, police officers, actors, a Supreme Court nominee, and even royalty.

More Information

  • To learn more, visit
  • Watch the institute’s before-and-after stuttering therapy videos.
  • To discuss how to stop stuttering with HCRI therapy, please call (540) 265-5650 or send an email to

HCRI, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of scientifically derived therapy approaches. The institute is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Virginia 24019.

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