Stuttering is a communication disorder that occurs most frequently in young children between the ages of 3 and 5 years. By the age of 6 years, the vast majority of children have outgrown the symptoms. This disorder is characterized by frequent repetitions and silent pauses called blocks which disrupt the flow of speech. Stress and anxiety clearly have an effect on the severity of stuttering. Notable celebrities such as Charles Darwin, Marilyn Monroe, Einstein, Bruce Willis, Newton and Julia Roberts are known stutterers.
The cause of stuttering is not yet known. There does however, seem to be a genetic component involved. It is also thought that physiological and psychological factors (stress, anxiety, etc.) could also play a role in causing this disorder.
Persons most at risk
Several persons present an increased risk for stuttering. Children who live in overly stressful or demanding environments, boys and individuals with a family history of stuttering are more prone to developing a stutter.
The most common symptoms associated with stuttering are:
- Repetition of sounds, syllables or words
- Prolongation of sounds
- Word substitutions
- Lack of fluency when communicating
- Physical reactions involving the body or face when speaking
- Inability to say certain words
These signs may be permanent or sporadic. Remarkably, most stutterers are symptom-free when performing certain activities such as singing or acting in a play. Intense stress or excitement can however, worsen symptoms. Symptoms are known to suddenly disappear after the age of 6 years. People who stutter experience anger, embarrassment, self-consciousness, frustration and, from time to time, mutism. In exceptional cases, stuttering episodes may be accompanied by convulsions and epilepsy. If symptoms persist or if complications arise, it is important to consult a health care professional.
Stuttering is diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist or a family physician if epilepsy is involved. The earlier the patient is diagnosed, the better the chances for recovery.
The primary treatment is carried out by a speech-language pathologist, a trained professional who specializes in communication disorders. These specialists aim to help stutterers modify their fluency. Through breathing, diction and dialogue exercises, speech-language pathologists strive to correct speech defects in those with communication disorders.
Psychotherapy may also prove effective for individuals experiencing psychological issues in connection with their stuttering. Psychotherapists will provide stutterers with relaxation techniques to help them reduce their stress levels when communicating with others. Family therapy is often recommended. Parents are taught to respect their child's impairment, to avoid cutting them off when they are trying to express themselves and to eliminate teasing of any kind.
For more information or for support :
The Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists