Let’s talk about cluttering — as in cluttering when you talk

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
The cover of a book written by Kathy Scaler Scott, an associate professor of speech language pathology at Misericordia University. -
Scaler Scott -

DALLAS TWP. — When most people talk about cluttering, they mean the mess of unsorted snail mail on the table, the hodgepodge of forgotten tchotchke on a shelf, or the trove of toys pushed to room corners to maintain a clear path.

When Kathy Scaler Scott talks about cluttering, it’s something altogether different. Think verbal volleys delivered so rat-a-tat-tat you feel like you missed half of what was said. Think of a person so eager to get all the words out that some of them go missing.

“It’s a communication disorder where the person sounds fast to the listener, and it’s difficult to understand either their message or the actual words they have articulated,” explained the associate professor of speech language pathology.

“The first book about it was written in 1964,” she noted, so this specialty of hers at Misericordia University isn’t as new as it may seem. “But it is something not well-defined. It’s only in the last 10 or 15 years that awareness increased a little among the public.”

Scaler Scott is doing her darndest to help advance the study of cluttering, as well as a second disorder called word-final disfluency — akin to stuttering, only after you said what you wanted to, repeating the last word or the last syllable several times.

She has also written a few textbooks and won a few awards — pretty big awards in the field. In July, she won the 2018 professional of the year award from the National Stuttering Association and the Deso Weiss Award for excellence in the field of cluttering.

One reason these speech issues — the mouthful “atypical disfluency” is gaining traction as an umbrella term — don’t garner much attention may be that, unlike stuttering, there are no famous examples. Stuttering has long had historical figures who overcame the impediment on the way to achieving immortality.

Consider Derek Jacobi’s performance as a Roman emperor in the Emmy-winning “I, Claudius,” or Colin Firth’s more recent Oscar-worthy turn as King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” There are no similar, at-the-finger-tips examples of cluttering or word-final disfluency in pop culture.

Not that a lack of public knowledge prompted her foray into the field.

“Do you want the honest story, or an interesting story?” Scaler Scott quipped when asked the origins of her interest. “The honest story is that I was literally a bookworm in high school. I was very studious. I went to the library and checked out a book on jobs, and said ‘Hmm, this speech pathologist looks interesting.’”

Advice for parents

So what does an award-winning local expert on cluttering recommend if your child exhibits disfluency?

“If a child starts to stutter, if possible give our clinic a call or a local speech pathologist,” she said. “Maybe set up an evaluation to make sure it’s not anything that needs to be addressed.”

A large percentage of kids will recover without any major intervention. But a professional can sometimes put a parent’s mind at ease if that is the case. And if it isn’t, “early intervention is definitely helpful.”

Therapy often involves helping a person recognize when the problem arises and providing strategies “to help approach speech in an easier way,” avoiding the stress and frustration from feeling unable to communicate.

The “don’t” list is a bit more definitive. “You never want to mock, or tell people to slow down and take a deep breath. That doesn’t help the child,” she explained. “We used to think pointing it out to the child made it worse, but that doesn’t make it worse.”

And be patient. If it is going to go away, it can “take up to 18 months to resolve.”

The cover of a book written by Kathy Scaler Scott, an associate professor of speech language pathology at Misericordia University.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_FOR-PUBLICATION-Book-cover.jpgThe cover of a book written by Kathy Scaler Scott, an associate professor of speech language pathology at Misericordia University.

Scaler Scott
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Scott-2c-Scaler-Kathleen-2.jpgScaler Scott

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish