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Public Knowledge of Stuttering: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Public Knowledge of Stuttering: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
Robert Mayo, PhD, Carolyn M. Mayo, Kimberly C. Jenkins, BA, Lauren R. Graves, BA
September 27, 2004


400 African American and Caucasian American adults who did not stutter were surveyed regarding their knowledge of stuttering. A 21-item questionnaire was used to query participants. The major findings of the study were that most persons knew someone who stuttered, viewed stuttering as having a neurological or physiological causation, overestimated the prevalence of stuttering, saw stuttering as occurring more often within their own culture, and identified the speech-language pathologist as the professional who treats stuttering.


Stuttering is a universal phenomenon that has been identified in ethnic and cultural groups around the world (Cooper & Cooper, 2002; Van Riper, 1982). It has been suggested that attitudes toward stuttering are different for various cultural groups (Robinson & Crowe, 2002). Knowledge of, and attitudes toward stuttering have been studied extensively in Caucasian populations but to a lesser degree in other cultural and language groups (Bernstein-Ratner & Benitez, 1985; Richmond, Brown, Jenkins, & Mayo, 2002; Williams & Mayo, 2000). However, one study suggested that negative attitudes toward persons who stutter might also be found among African Americans. Williams and Mayo (2000) examined the reactions of 132 African American college students to videotaped speaking segments of two African American adults--one fluent and the other exhibiting mild-moderate stuttering. The results revealed that the students ascribed significantly more negative traits to the speaker who stuttered.

It has been reported that African Americans hold a number of myths or stereotypes pertaining to the cause and treatment of stuttering (Robinson & Crowe, 1998) and it is likely such stereotypes exist among all American cultures. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, we asked...Would these views interfere with assessment and treatment with African American adults who stutter?

Presumably, one way of reducing individual or group negative attitudes toward persons who stutter would be by increasing the individual or groups' knowledge and understanding of the nature and treatment of stuttering.

Current and predicted demographic changes in the United States population suggest that the numbers of ethnically and culturally diverse persons who stutter will be increasingly represented in the speech-language pathologist's caseload. While the prevalence of stuttering among Caucasian populations has been reported as one percent or less (Andrews, 1984; Guitar, 1999), surveys have indicated that the disorder occurs more often in people of African ancestry---ranging from 2.8% among African Americans (Gillespie & Cooper, 1973) to a high of 9.2% among Nigerians (Nwokah, 1988). In comparison, epidemiological data on the occurrence of stuttering in other cultural groups such as Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are generally limited but are thought to range from 0.82 to 2% (Tellis & Tellis, 2003).

Cooper and Cooper (1993) stated that with respect to stuttering, "Relatively few data exist concerning variations from culture to culture in the disorder's affective, behavioral, and cognitive components" (p. 189). They also noted that the study of differences in the "ABCs of stuttering" from one culture to another is critical to professional understanding of fluency disorders. Following multicultural focus group studies in three major United States cities, Smith (1992) concluded that African Americans have little knowledge of communication disorders and even less knowledge of the professionals trained and certified to offer treatment for communication disorders. Thus, the availability of information about what persons of different cultures know about stuttering might help clinicians provide appropriate education about the disorder without disregarding a client's belief systems or erecting potential barriers to effective intervention. Moreover, to successfully transform misconceptions about stuttering possessed by members of a culture, we must first determine their level of knowledge about the disorder.

The purpose of this study was to examine cross-culturally, African American and Caucasian American adults' knowledge of stuttering.

Robert Mayo, PhD

Carolyn M. Mayo

Kimberly C. Jenkins, BA

Lauren R. Graves, BA

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