Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the normal flow of speech is broken by sounds that are repeated or held longer than normal, or by problems with starting a word.
for searching the Internet and other reference sources
People who stutter may repeat a speech sound over and over (st-st-stuttering), or they may hold a sound longer than normal (sssssstuttering). In some cases, they may have trouble starting a word, leading to abnormal stops in their speech (no sound). Yet many people who stutter learn to control the problem. The list of famous people in history who overcame stuttering includes Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Clara Barton, King George VI of England, Winston Churchill, and Marilyn Monroe.
What Is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the normal flow of speech is broken. Along with the effort to speak, some people who stutter also make unusual face or body movements, such as rapid eye blinking or trembling of the lips. Certain situations, such as speaking on the phone, tend to make stuttering worse. On the other hand, people usually do not stutter when they sing, whisper, or speak as part of a group, or when they do not hear their own voices. No one is sure why this is so.
Most children go through a stage of choppy speech when they are first learning to talk. In addition, teenagers and adults often add extra sounds (for example, "uh" and "um") to their speech, and they occasionally repeat sounds. This is perfectly normal. Such problems are considered a disorder only when they last past the age when most children outgrow them and get in the way of communicating clearly. Treating stuttering even in young children may help prevent a lifelong problem. Treatment may be considered for children who stutter longer than 6 months or for those who seem to struggle when they speak. Sometimes, however, no treatment is the best treatment, especially in the case of children whose stuttering worsens when attention is focused on the problem.
What Causes Stuttering?
Stuttering usually begins between the ages of 2 and 6 years. About 1 percent of children stutter, and boys are three times more likely to do so than girls. The most common form of stuttering is thought to arise when children's developing speech and language abilities are not yet able to keep up with their needs. Stuttering occurs when they search for the right word. This kind of stuttering usually is outgrown.
Another form of stuttering is caused by signal problems between the brain and the nerves or muscles involved in speech. The brain is unable to control all the different parts of the speech system. This kind of stuttering sometimes is seen in people who have had a stroke or brain injury. Yet another, less common form of the disorder is caused by severe stress or some types of mental illness. Some kinds of stuttering seem to run in families, and it is likely that stuttering is genetic * (je-NE-tik) in some cases, although no gene for stuttering has been found yet.
How Is Stuttering Linked to Fear?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that stuttering is caused by anxiety (ang-ZY-e-tee), an intense, long-lasting feeling of fear, worry, or nervousness. Yet people who stutter may become fearful of meeting new people, speaking in public, or talking on the phone. In such cases, it is the stuttering that causes the fear, not the reverse.
How Is Stuttering Diagnosed?
Stuttering usually is diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist (pa-THAH-lo-jist), a professional who is specially trained to test and treat people with speech, language, and voice disorders. The speech pathologist will ask questions about the problem, such as when it first started and when it is most and least noticeable. The speech pathologist also will test speech and language abilities. In addition, some people may be sent to other professionals for hearing tests and medical tests of the nervous system.
How Is Stuttering Treated?
There are several treatments that may improve stuttering, although none is an instant cure. With young children, the focus often is on teaching parents how to help the child at home. Parents typically are told to have a relaxed attitude and give their children plenty of chances to speak. They may be warned not to criticize their children's speech problems or even not to pay attention to them at all. Instead, they can be good role models, speaking in a slow, relaxed manner themselves and listening patiently when their children talk.
* genetic means having to do with genes, which are chemical substances that help determine a person's characteristics such as hair or eye color, and also determine some health conditions. Genes are contained in the chromosomes, threadlike structures found in the cells of the body. A person's genes are inherited from his or her parents.
Being a Good Listener
When talking to someone who stutters, you should:
- Be patient. Do not finish sentences or fill in words for the person. This might be taken as an insult, or you might guess the wrong words.
- Make normal eye contact. Try not to look embarrassed or concerned.
- Be understanding. Do not make remarks such as "slow down" or "relax." The person probably has tried this already, so your comments will not help.
- Set a relaxed pace. Try to keep your own speech at a medium speed.
- Be sensible. If you do not understand what someone says, politely ask the person to repeat it. This is better than risking a misunderstanding.
With older children, teenagers, and adults, speech therapy can help them relearn how to speak or unlearn faulty ways of speaking. Some people who stutter have fears related to the disorder, such as a fear of speaking in public. Such problems caused by the stuttering can be helped with psychotherapy (sy-ko-THER-a-pea), in which people talk about their feelings, beliefs, and experiences with a mental health professional who can help them work out issues that play a part in their speech problems.
De Geus, Eelco.
Sometimes I Just Stutter.
Mempis, TN: Stuttering Foundation of America, 1999. This book tells
young people about the causes of stuttering and discusses the fears and
embarrassment of people who stutter. It is available to buy or to read
at the foundation's website:
Sugarman, Michael, and Kim C. Swain. The Adventures of Phil Carrot: The Forest of Discord. Anaheim, CA: National Stuttering Association, 1995. This is the story of an unusual day in the life of a boy who stutters and his classmates.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike,
Rockville, MD 20852. This professional association for speech-language
pathologists offers reliable information on stuttering.
National Stuttering Association, 5100 East La Palma, Suite 208, Anaheim,
CA 92807. This organization is the largest self-help and support group
in the United States for people who stutter.
Stuttering Foundation of America, 3100 Walnut Grove Road, Suite 603,
P.O. Box 11749, Memphis, TN 38111-0749. This nonprofit group works
toward the prevention and improved treatment of stuttering.
U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders,
31 Center Drive, MSC 2320, Bethesda, MD 20892-2320. This government
institute is a source of facts and figures on stuttering.