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What is cluttering?

Cluttering is the term used to describe a speech pattern that can often sound disorganised, rapid, jerky or contain unclear speech.

For most clutterers, their speech does sound fluent and intelligible, and they might not realise that others struggle to understand them.

Cluttering is when someone’s speaking rate is too fast and/or irregular, and when their speech includes one or more of the following:

  • Unusual pausing, stress, volume and rhythm
  • Lots of hesitations and filler words like ‘urm’ or ‘well’
  • Collapsing or deleting syllables in speech – the words may sound ‘mushy’

Cluttering can often be mistaken for stammering, but it’s not the same thing.

Stammering Cluttering
Non-typical disfluencies – sound, syllable, word repetitions; blocks; prolongations Typical disfluencies – phrase repetitions, interjections and revisions
Atypical rate and rhythm Rapid and/or irregular rate
No articulation errors Slurred speech and syllable collapse
Usually no language difficulties Language disorganised and word finding difficulties
Shows avoidance behaviours and tension No avoidance behaviours or tension
Performs worse under pressure Performs better under pressure

Cluttering is viewed as having trouble with the timing and planning of language. People who clutter may often have lots of thoughts and things to say, but find it difficult to plan their language, so they may stumble over their words which can make communicating with others difficult for them.

Cluttering can happen as a result of 2 things:

  1. A high speech rate and difficulty controlling the pace of speaking
  2. Disorganised planning of language or structuring messages and sentences

What should I do if my child clutters?

  • Understand that ‘slowing down’ and ‘speaking more clearly’ is very difficult for someone who clutters.
  • Let your child know what you have understood, by repeating it back, for example, “So you were in Maths, and then…”. This shows them you have been listening and they can then tell you anything that you missed.
  • Show your child you are interested in the conversation and what they have to say, and take the time to give them your full attention.
  • Try to improve your child’s awareness of their own speech, so that over time they may become more aware of when people have not understood them.
  • Help your child identify any triggers that may increase the frequency of cluttering. For example, does emotional stress affect this or speaking in certain situations?
  • When listening to your child speak, try and reduce interruptions, and limit any stress inducing factors or situations which can increase cluttered speech.
  • Educate family members, school staff and friends on what cluttering is.
  • Show them how to respond when your child clutters in speech. For example, try and avoid telling your child to ‘slow down’.

Additional resources and information

Too fast for words was created to enhance the awareness of cluttering and to support people who clutter, and everyone close to them, to better cope with this intriguing speech and language disorder.

About cluttering from the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering.

Cluttering Speech (Animation): 1-Minute Explanation!

Contact us

Claire Bull
Anneleen Kennard
Specialist Speech and Language Therapists

Speech & Language Therapy Service
Flockton House
18 & 20 Union Road
Sheffield, S11 9EF

Tel: 0114 226 2333  or 0114 226 2335

clairebull2@nhs.net
anneleen.kennard@nhs.net

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Disclaimer

Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL259

Resource Type: Article

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United Kingdom

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