Early Intervention Holds Hope for Those Who
FRIDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) -- Stuttering may seem simple
enough. People who stutter cannot get words out properly. They
repeat or prolong sounds or syllables, sometimes appearing to
physically struggle to speak.
But the problem is much more complex than that, involving
factors as disparate as genetics, emotion, brain activity, motor
control and language, said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering
Foundation of America.
"There are so many factors involved in saying one word, it is the most complex thing we do," Fraser said. "There's nothing we do as humans more complex than speaking."
Stuttering took center stage recently with the popularity and
critical success of "The King's Speech," which was awarded the
"best picture" Oscar at this year's Academy Awards. The movie has
brought new attention to the problem of stuttering, which affects
roughly 3 million Americans, according to the U.S. National
Institutes of Health.
Experts' understanding of stuttering has evolved considerably
from days past, when most people thought the problem was all in the
"In light of 'The King's Speech,' certainly in the '30s and '40s, I think people thought in general stuttering was a psychological problem," Fraser said. "If you had enough willpower, you could just get on top of it. My father and his brother both stuttered, and both were punished for stuttering. People thought they could spank it out of you, and in his and his brother's case, it just made it worse."
Doctors have since identified four factors that can influence a
person's chance of developing a stutter, according to the
- Genetics. About three of every five people who stutter have a
family member with the same problem.
- Child development. Children with early speech or language
problems, or some other form of developmental delay, are more
likely to stutter.
- Neurophysiology. Researchers have found that people who stutter
process speech and language differently than people without a
- Family dynamics. Pressure to succeed and a fast-paced lifestyle
can prompt stuttering in some people.
"Stutterers are more vulnerable to a breakdown in the system that includes everything from thinking the thought to translating the thought into actual speaking," Fraser said.
Therapies for stuttering also have advanced as understanding of
the disorder has grown, said Fraser and Tommie L. Robinson Jr.,
immediate past president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association and a therapist at the Children's National Medical
Center in Washington, D.C.
Today, people who stutter receive speech therapy as well as
therapy that attempts to get to the psychological or
neurophysiological issues that make them more apt to struggle with
their speech, Fraser and Robinson said.
Because of this, it is crucial that a stutterer develop a
healthy relationship with his or her therapist, one that goes far
beyond teaching techniques to get around a blocked word or sound,
"They've got to be able to talk about what they're feeling, what's going on inside," he said.
Therefore, psychotherapeutic techniques such as cognitive
behavioral therapy are valued just as highly as speech therapy
tactics that teach stutterers to speak more slowly and use tricks
to get past blocked sounds or syllables, Fraser said.
Early intervention is also important, Robinson said. The most
common form of stuttering develops in early childhood, when a child
is learning how to translate thoughts into words, according to the
NIH. Developmental stuttering occurs when a child's speech and
language abilities can't keep pace with verbal demands placed on
"If we intervene with people early, we can teach parents to slow their speech and minimize the pressure placed on their kids," Robinson said. "That is the best thing."
The U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication
Disorders has more on
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