Stuttering is also called childhood-onset fluency disorder or stammering. It is a disorder related to the fluency and frequency of speech acts. Sufferers are aware of the message they are trying to convey but experience difficulty in expressing it verbally. It is common among young children when acquiring their first language. Stuttering is a disorder that can be managed to the point of recovery especially when the child’s speaking capabilities have developed to a sufficient level. It may also present itself as a chronic disorder of adulthood.

Causes

An exact cause is unknown

Possible combination of factors determining the onset of the disorder:

Abnormalities in motor speech control – timing, sensory and motor coordination

Genetics – inherited genetic abnormalities in the language centers of the brain (Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, angular gyrus)

Medical conditions – stroke, trauma, or other types of injury to the brain

Emotional stress can sometimes lead to stuttering

Symptoms and signs

The disruptions in the production of speech sounds may appear under various forms:

Repetitions of words or parts of words

Prolongations of speech sounds

‘Out of breath’ or tense appearance (tightness of the face)

Difficulty starting a word, phrase or sentence

Pauses within a word (‘broken word’) or speech may become completely stopped or blocked. Blocked speech refers to the mouth being positioned to utter a sound with no speech being produced

Addition of extra words (“umm”, “like”) if anticipating difficulty in the next utterance – intentionally delaying speech

Anxiety about talking

Some may intentionally limit participation in conversations (participation restrictions) – pretending to forget the topic

Others may resort to hiding their disorder by rearranging the words in their sentences – circumlocution

Declining to speak altogether

 

The aforementioned signs may be accompanied by:

Rapid eye blinking

Facial tics

Head jerking

Fists clenching

Tremors of the lips or jaw

Advice

Controlled fluency – a form of speech therapy aiming at making the person in question slow down the speech in order to learn to anticipate ensuing stuttering

Electronic devices – delayed auditory feedback that helps slowing down speech, otherwise sounds will be heard distorted through the machine. Another type of device mimics one’s voice in order to make it sound like speaking in unison

Cognitive behavioral therapy – psychological counseling aimed at identifying and retraining one’s stuttering patterns, or aimed at helping one overcome stressful issues causing the stammering. Counseling can also help in assuaging feelings of shame and low self-esteem associated with either self or peer isolation from conversations and social occasions

Medications – no drugs have been found to help stuttering

When dealing with a person who stutters:

Listen attentively and maintain eye-contact

Wait for the person in question to finish speaking, do not hurry or jump in to complete/correct the utterance

Find a peaceful environment for talking

Speak slowly

Take turns during conversation

Maintain a relaxed tonus during talk

Do not draw additional attention to the stuttering

MISCONCEPTIONS
  • Anxiety is responsible for stuttering

    Stuttering is correlated with intelligence

    Thinking about what to say in advance is best – usually, it worsens the stuttering by drawing too much attention to the issue at hand

    Denying, neglecting and hoping that the problem will treat itself

    The stutterer is responsible for not being able to control him/herself

    Stuttering will hold one back from developing a normal life

    Stuttering is shameful and must not be talked about

Statistics

Usually, the first signs of the disorder appear between the ages of 21/2 and 4

Stuttering is more common among males than females (boys are three to four times more likely to develop stuttering)

About 75% of preschoolers will eventually stop

Many stop within a few months since first signs appeared

Largely, no exact predictions can be made whether someone will be able to stop or not

According to data provided by ASHA (American Speech-Language-Sharing Association) 79% of adults who underwent speech-language therapy improved with at least one level on the Fluency Functional Communication Measure

Studies of school-aged children revealed an improvement of 61% in reduction of stuttering after speech therapy

Did you know?

The FCM scale is a series of a seven point scale ranging from a least functional (Level 1) to a most functional level (Level 7)

Broca’s area is located in the left hemisphere and is associated with speech production and articulation

Wernicke’s area is located in the temporal lobe and is connected with Broca’s area via a neural pathway. It is mainly involved in speech comprehension

The angular gyrus is in close proximity to the parietal lobe. It allows the brain to make connections between perceived words, visual images and abstractions

Famous stuttering personalities: King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, NBA all-star Hall-of-Famer and NBC sports commentator Bill Walton, actor James Earl Jones, Carly Simon