What Is Cluttering?

According to the Stuttering Foundation, Cluttering is defined as follows:

“Cluttering is a fluency disorder characterized by a rapid and/or irregular speaking rate, excessive disfluencies, and often other symptoms such as language or phonological errors and attention deficits. “

Children who use cluttered speech are often very difficult to understand and have speech that sounds jerky or too fast.  They may have irregular pauses or may speed up and slow down without cause during speech.  As secondary symptoms, they may have difficulty organizing their thoughts verbally, they may leave many sounds out of words, and they may use irregular pitch or intonation.

Cluttering Therapy

If your child has received a diagnosis of cluttering, it is important to teach him some strategies to compensate for this.  There is no “cure” for cluttering but children can be taught techniques that will help them be understood by others.  For most of these children, the first step is making them aware that it’s happening.  Once they become aware that someone is having trouble understanding them, they can use the learned techniques to fix the communication breakdown.  Here is a flow chart that explains how these strategies can be used once a communication breakdown is noticed:

Here is how you can describe these strategies to your child:

Cluttering Strategy #1: Slow Speech

When people clutter, they often speak very quickly or with an irregular rate (adding extra pauses). This makes it very hard for the listener to understand. When this happens, you can use a strategy called slow speech. To do this, you will use an overly-slow rate to make sure you don’t speed up again. To help you with his, come up with a strategy that works to remind you to keep doing it. This might be increasing natural pauses, taping a rhythm on your leg or with your toe, or another strategy that you come up with. This will help your listener understand what you are saying.

  • Homework: Practice reading sentences or paragraphs from a book while using slow speech and the strategy you chose. Think about how it feels when you speak like this and how it sounds. Read to an adult and have them give you feedback on how you sound.

Cluttering Strategy #2: Over-Articulation

When people clutter, they often leave out sounds or smash them all together. If someone is having trouble understanding you, it is important to try to exaggerate saying every sound so you know they are all there. This is called over-articulation. You exaggerate each sound you say to the point that it may sound a little silly to you. This will help your listener understand what you are saying.

  • Homework: Practice reading sentences or paragraphs from a book while using over-articulation. Think about how it feels when you speak like this and how it sounds. Read to an adult and have them give you feedback on how you sound.

Cluttering Strategy #3: Normal Pitch

When people are cluttering, they often speak with a pitch that is too high, too low, or too up and down. The pitch of your voice is how high or low it sounds. It is important to find the “Just Right” pitch for your voice. Practice saying these sentences very high and then very low. After that, use a normal pitch to say them. While you’re saying them, think about how your voice and throat feels while you use a normal pitch and what it sounds like. This will help you remember when you realize you’re using a pitch that’s too high or too low. Being able to come back to this normal pitch will help your listener understand you.

  •  I walked my dog in Kansas City last night.
  • Sometimes, I like to eat mashed potatoes and corn.
  • When I am bored, I like to ride my bike around the neighborhood.
  •  It’s a beautiful day outside today, don’t you think?
  •  This is how I use my normal pitch.
  • Homework: Practice reading sentences or paragraphs from a book while using a normal pitch. Think about how it feels when you speak like this and how it sounds. Read to an adult and have them give you feedback on how you sound.

What’s Next for Cluttering?

Once your child can use these strategies with the assigned homework activities, try having your child use them in a conversation with you using the flow-chart above.  Show your child that you are confused (with your facial expression) and have him try the strategies to see which one works.  Eventually, you will be able to remind your child to use this concept during conversations with other people as well.

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