About the presenter: Tatyana Exum is the Chair of the Interdisciplinary Outreach Committee of the ICA. Currently, she is a special education instructor in Florida. Earlier, she was the Manager of a Literacy Training Program for Adults with SLD, ADD, ADHD. She was born in the Ukraine where she worked as an instructor on the post graduate level at various colleges. She was recently diagnosed with cluttering and stuttering, and shares her lifelong experiences of overcoming thse conditions.
About the presenter: Charlene Absalon is a graduate from Hofstra University with a BA in Business Computer Information Systems. She was first diagnosed with stuttering at a very young age, and spent countless hours with various speech therapists. After a major relapse during her early twenties, Charlene sought the help of another speech therapist, who also diagnosed her with cluttering. Charlene currently works for a real-estate firm in New York City and lives in Queens, NY with her family.
About the presenter: Baruti M. Smith was born in the New Brunswick, New Jersey and raised in the South Bronx, New York. He shares, "I am raised in a household both parents with three yonger brother. I have a ethnic background of Costa Rican and Africa-America. Presently, I am finishing my last semester at City University of New York (CUNY)-Medgar Evers College with a B.S in Business Administration focus on Management. I plan working in various investment like real estate and own a new and new car dealership."
About the presenter: Dr. Isabella K. Reichel, CCC-SLP/A, is an associate professor at the graduate program in speech-language pathology at Touro College. She is a Board-recognized specialist, Fluency Disorders. She has been specializing in this field for over three decades. Her research on the topics of emotional intelligence, stigma, stuttering, clutterring, and international collaboration among professionals has been published and presented worldwide. She is the Chair of the Committee of International Representatives of the ICA.


People with Cluttering and Stuttering Have Room for Success

by Tatyana Exum, Charlene Absalon, Baruti Smith and Isabella K. Reichel

from New York, USA

Modern society puts more and more stringent requirements on its members. They are expected to enter the productive citizenship by being equipped for the future, which includes the ability to effectively communicate. Some individuals have to take a longer route to achieving their goals due to their speech/language difficulties. This article will present the results of Dr. Reichel's 10-item qualitative Brief Cluttering and Stuttering Questionnaire (BCSQ), and introduce the readers to three of the co-authors' stories describing their emotional roller coaster which they went through due to their cluttering and stuttering in the course of their quest for success.

Five people (3 females and 2 males) who each had a combination of cluttering and stuttering responded to the BCSQ. All were either present or former clients of Dr. Reichel, except for one who was diagnosed and counseled by her. Three of the respondents became co-authors of this article; the other two preferred to remain anonymous.

    1. Stuttering, in most of the reported cases (4 out of 5) was diagnosed during the formative ages (between the ages of 4 and 9). Cluttering, on the other hand, went undiagnosed until adolescence (1) and adulthood (4).
    2. The diagnosis of cluttering brought about significant changes in all 5 respondents' lives. For example: "... happy to learn about cluttering and to start working on it" and "... understanding of cluttering was a sort of enlightenment in life..." to "It was not everyone else who did not pay attention, it was me talking."
    3. The majority of the respondents (3 out of 5) felt that stuttering is more negatively stigmatized than cluttering. For example: "People stigmatize cluttering and stuttering in different ways." "With stuttering it's a pity/amused look, but with cluttering it's a confused look or the long silent pause on the other end of the phone. And both disorders draw an emotional reaction, whether it's laughter or tears, it's a reaction that you never forget." "If stuttering is mostly associated with speech, cluttering, due to its unusual nature, is often associated with non-coherent thinking, a low IQ, absence of cognitive skills, low emotional intelligence, etc." "Inability to express the thoughts effortlessly and explicitly causes puzzled listeners' facial expressions and comments."(
    4. Most of the respondents (4 out of 5) to the question of how cluttering and stuttering influence each other, noted that the disorders were interrelated. For example: "They induce each other." "Stuttering and cluttering are similar to a married couple, where they are one under G-d or in this case linguistically." "They go in hand in hand. If I start talking really fast and people don't understand me then I will be more prone to stutter because I feel more pressure to speak fluently/clearly." "The disfluent pauses of the stutterer may become shorter due to the higher speech rate of the clutterer."
    5. Most of the respondents to the question of which disorder affects you more emotionally (4 out of 5) referred to stuttering; however, all of them, to varied degrees, found cluttering to be frustrating and annoying, as well as sometimes "depressing."
    6. Most of the respondents (4 out of 5) had similar responses to the question of what interfered with their communication more? Planning and formulating thoughts or fast and unclear speech? They felt that fast and unclear speech interfered with their communication more. For example: "When cluttering occurs, my speech is fast and unclear or as I say, a ball of words tumbles out with no beginning and no end." Or: "My thoughts run faster than I can verbalize, resulting in the most mosh-pit words." "The cluttered thought processing can be pictured as a crash at a locomotive depot, when a sudden stop causes the thoughts to clash, run over each other."
    7. Most of the respondents (4 out of 5) were multilingual, and only these could respond fully to the question of "Which language do you speak, and which language (primary or secondary) is affected more by cluttering, and which by stuttering? The multilingual respondents spoke in English plus Russian, French, Hebrew, and/or Creole. All of these multilingual respondents confirmed an increase in difficulties when using their second languages. Two respondents observed more difficulties in cluttering, and two in stuttering, when using their second language.
    8. A slim majority of the respondents (3 out of 5) to the question of "Which disorder is easier than the other to manage as a result of speech therapy?" felt that cluttering is easier to manage as a result of speech therapy.
    9. All 5 of the respondents strongly believed that addressing cognitive and emotional aspects of cluttering during therapy is as important as addressing them during stuttering therapy. "Emotional therapy has increased my confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, which has tremendously improved my cluttering and stuttering." "Absolutely." "Yes, they go hand in hand."
    10. The respondents were given the choices of "outstanding," "good," "fair," and "poor," in answering the question of "What prognosis do you expect for the person with a combined cluttering and stuttering disorder, given the client's consistent adherence to his or her speech therapy program?" In making their predictions, 3 respondents answered "good," and 2 answered "outstanding."

There are two categories of people: The ones who are settled with what they know and what they have, and the ones who are still looking. The first group is satisfied with "Who," "What," "Where," and "When," while the second one is seeking the answer to "Why." Sometimes, life hurdles make people quit asking "Why," if they do not find answers. Quite often this happens because they do not know where to find an answer, tap on the wrong sources, and quit. Those, who do not quit, win.



For many years, I was struggling with my communication problems as a student, as a teacher, and as a mother. A year ago, I searched the National Institute for Literacy Learning Disabilities listserv, where I started looking for an explanation of my speech difficulties which I had managed to "cover up" for so long. I extensively described my experiences with my speech "...I could not pull out the word "RESPECT' every time I needed it or why I tried to hurry up and finish my statements before I& was ... interrupted." Why couldn't my frustrated teacher get any words out of me after the command to sit on my hands, while I was answering? Why could I not slow down with my speech, and just had to spit it out?" I got quite a few responses; however, the real answer came from an unexpected source - Dr. Isabella Reichel, who was evidently following our thread discussing issues relating to adults with learning disabilities, and who responded to one of my cries for help. She asked if I knew anything about cluttering and stuttering, and shared the ICA's website to assist me in my quest. A few days later, I hurried to inform her, "According to all the materials I've read so far, I am a clutterer..." Very soon, we were constantly communicating on-line and on the phone. I was trying to catch up with the fireballs of her questions concerning the additional details I was sharing with her, which prompted the possibility of the coexisting issues, "Does your sound come out with tension? Does your unclear speech make you frustrated? ... Do you have an SLP in your town?" I was very surprised to find out that my hand movements were a secondary behavior which originally helped me to get through the word and that my feelings associated with my speech had an explanation.

During our discussions, I kept revisiting my life experiences and reassessing the knowledge of myself. Our dialogue was unstoppable. Soon, she knew a lot more about me than people who surrounded me daily. My mind started filling up with the long-forgotten memories: my mom's effort to exclude the fill-ups in my speech; the lessons in piano and singing, when I had to use a metronome to slow me down; acting lessons, during which the sound production was addressed by putting marble balls in the mouth. Later, when I was exposed to the necessity of doing multiple presentations during my teaching career, I had to learn how to overcome blocks by playing them down as the intended pauses, or slapping my hand, by concentrating on the positive faces in the audience. I also had to learn how to overcome the wish to never open my mouth again after running sentences in an unknown direction and not looking smart. Delegating my speech controls to my students (they were my time keepers and reminded me to "hit a space bar" when needed) happened to be one of my "saving grace" tools. Through my discussions with Dr. Reichel, we discovered that my college course in Phonetics contained exercises also used in a speech pathology field. I started using these exercises again and found that by doing so, my speech started improving.

There were two major components of our communication which helped tremendously in sorting things out: A very knowledgeable specialist, and a supportive ICA community with the availability of the resources on the website. Finding out my diagnosis and discussing my options made the whole experience invigorating. I felt such a sense of relief in knowing that what I had been experiencing was not my imagination; the problems were real; and they could be helped. When Dr. Reichel and Dr. Scaler-Scott, the ICA Coordinator, proposed for me to become the Chair of the Interdisciplinary Committee of the ICA, which would bring the awareness of cluttering to allied professionals, I gladly agreed.



Stuttering was never a big part of my life until I entered the world of adulthood and started to work in corporate America. Experiencing the stigma associated with stuttering was much harder than I had expected it to be.

Depression began to set in every time I had a block and as a result I felt my personality change just to conform to the stuttering demon I had trapped inside. There were instances where my blocks would cause me to want to rip out my throat out of pure frustration. For years, I plastered on a fake smile to the world and hid the sadness in my eyes. Fluent speakers do not know that every pitied look or disgusted glance hurt ten times more than if I had been stabbed. Finally, after a few months at my second job, the anger gave me the determination to seek out the aid of a speech therapist. My first session with Dr. Reichel was like letting the dam break free and letting the water run free. I remember crying, which I had always held inside, and telling her my story, and from then on, I began to feel healed. Every insulting look and smirk that I encountered once I got better slid off my back like water sliding off the waterproof feathers of a duck. My stuttering was minimized from a block every sentence to one block every two weeks. Once the issue of stuttering was resolved, another issue came to the forefront - cluttering. There were instances when my thoughts raced faster than my mouth could catch up. The competition usually resulted in a jumbled mass of words exiting my mouth, leaving both recipient and myself perplexed. Unlike stuttering, I was not ashamed about this problem. Instead, I shrugged it off as if a pesky bug, but it became an apparent problem when it became more frequent and when I would intend to say a word, but something completely different would come out. I always attributed this sort of mental dyslexia as normal, yet I had never heard another person jumble sentences into one verbal mass the way I did. I knew there was a problem, but denial is always easier to accept than the truth. It was a slow healing process, which I had to overcome. Between my second and third jobs, I was fluent for two years, with some minor relapses at times. I was hired for my third job as a fluent speaker, but the stress of the job and my personal life began to bear down on me and distracted me from thinking about the possibility of a relapse and practicing to maintain control of my speech. This led to a resumption of my stuttering and cluttering and brought on my current relapse with the same onslaught of emotions that attacked me in the past; however this time, I knew how to stop it from affecting me mentally. Now I began to work on my speech, practicing every other night, which helped decrease my blocks. To this day, the sadness has slowly crept out of my eyes again, but I am still working on regaining my natural smile rather than the mask. By practicing, I am able to bring myself to a higher foothold, a step closer to my freedom of speech. Despite my increase in blocks compared to when I had been down to about one every two weeks, I am 100 miles ahead of where I had been before I attended speech therapy.



My name is Baruti Smith. In order to accomplish, one must have the attitude to do it. This is what I have learned over the years of overcoming my cluttering and stuttering. In my early years, especially in the stage in my life when I was in the 3rd grade, my speech problem first hit me. It was evident in the way my peers interacted with me. I began to make progress in this area when I made it my goal to be naturally accepted by other people without receiving sympathy. In the 7th grade. I wasn't afraid to speak despite my speech issue. Let me add there is always frustration and an angry feeling that is a result of a speech impairment. I began to have success in my high school years, when I went to Dr. Reichel for speech therapy and was diagnosed with cluttering and stuttering. First I thought it was a recipe for a lifetime of defeat and misunderstanding. I couldn't read normally either. I overcame my stuttering for good. I took it step by step; from phrases to simple sentences to paragraphs, etc. Since then I don't stutter at all. As a result of my speech therapy, my cluttering was mostly corrected as well. It cleared up so that it seemed like I had never stuttered or cluttered in the first place. I would make speeches in my speech therapist's classes; none of the students in the classroom realized that I had a cluttering or even a speech issue. After one and a half years of clear speech, after the completion of my therapy, my speech gradually got worse and I suffered a relapse of my cluttering. I'm not as bad as before, but at the same time I am not back to where I ought to be yet. So I can say I have tasted victory over cluttering for one and a half years, and then lost it. After a five-year break, I have now resumed speech therapy again. My present focus is on my cluttering. My philosophy is the better the mindset for success, the earlier one will get past one's troubles. I just want to encourage others to follow my lead in correcting speech issues. It is important to have ultimate confidence in yourself. As long as people work on their speech and maintain an attitude that they can overcome their cluttering and stuttering, they will be successful and accomplished!


Due to their cluttering and stuttering, the lives of Tatyana, Charlene, and Baruti were full of emotional peaks and valleys, until they experienced the joys of victory. Each story is unique, yet all of them reveal one common denominator: The will to overcome barriers to successful communication, to practice diligently, and to ultimately succeed.


SUBMITTED: March 15, 2010

Return to the opening page of the conference