Stuttering is a speech disorder in which sounds, syllables or words are prolonged or repeated more than normal.
These disruptions in speech may be accompanied by struggling behaviours such as tremors of the lips or rapid eye blinking. Communication with people can be difficult and can often affect an individual’s quality of life.
Approximately three million Americans stutter. People of all ages can be affected by stuttering and usually occurs in children between the ages of 2 and 5 by the time they start developing their language skills. Roughly 5% of all children will stutter for a certain period in their life, with stuttering lasting from a few weeks to several years. Boys are twice as likely to stutter as girls, with this rate increasing with age. The number of boys who continue to stutter is 3 to 4 times larger than that of girls. Many children outgrow stuttering with 1% or less of adults who stutter.
|How speech is normally produced?
We produce speech sounds through a series of precisely coordinated muscle movements that involve phonation (voice production), breathing and articulation (movement of the throat, palate, lips and tongue). Muscle movements are controlled by the brain while being monitored through the sense of touch and hearing.
The exact cause of stuttering is unknown. It is estimated that 5% of children aged 2 to 5 will develop some stuttering during childhood. This may last for few weeks or several years.
Stuttering tends to occur in families. Research shows that genetics play a crucial role in this disorder as it shows that most people who stutter inherit traits that put them at a greater risk of developing stuttering. The nature of these traits is however currently unclear. These traits impair the individual’s ability to put together the various muscle movements necessary to produce a fluent sentence.
There is evidence that stuttering may be a result of brain trauma, such as traumatic brain injuries and stroke.
There are two common types of stuttering:
- Developmental stuttering – this occurs in young children who are still learning language skills and speech and is regarded as the most common form of stuttering.
- Neurogenic stuttering - this may occur after a person has suffered from a stroke, head trauma or other forms of injury to the brain.
Stuttering may begin with repeating consonants such as K, G and T; words and phrases are repeated when stuttering becomes worse. Later on vocal spasm may develop. There is a forced and almost explosive sound to one’s speech. An individual who stutters may struggle to speak during stressful social situations with anxiety making the condition worse.
Other signs of stuttering can include:
- Frustration when trying to communicate.
- A person may pause or hesitate when starting speech or during phrases, sentences or words. This occurs more often when the lips are together.
- Tension in the voice when speaking.
- Very long sounds within words e.g. “my name is joooooohn or Jo…jo..jo..john”
|Other symptoms that might be heard with Stuttering include:
- Eye blinking
- Jerking of the Jaw
- Jerking of the head or other body parts
- Lips shaking when trying to talk
Most children with mild stuttering are often not aware of their condition. Some people who stutter find that they do not stutter when they read aloud or sing.
The possible complications of stuttering include social problems caused by a fear of ridicule and can make a child avoid speaking completely.
There is no best known treatment for stuttering. In most cases stuttering can be short term and resolve on its own. Speech therapy can be helpful if:
- Stuttering has occurred and lasted for more than 3 – 6 months, or when an individual has had blocked speech for several seconds.
- When there is a family history of stuttering.
- The child appears to be struggling when talking.
A speech therapist may make the speech more smooth and fluent, and he/she can help the child to feel better about stuttering.
Parents are encouraged to:
- Avoid expressing too much concern when a child stutters since it can make matters worse by making the child more self-conscious.
- Try to avoid stressful social situations whenever possible.
- Set time aside for talking.
- Try to talk openly about stuttering with your child when he/she brings it up and try to let them know that you understand.