What is Stuttering?
Stuttering is a disorder in which speech is interrupted by repeated movements and fixed postures of the speech mechanism. Signs of struggle and tension may accompany these interruptions.The severity of stuttering varies, with mild, moderate and severe cases. However, the severity of stuttering may be also be quite variable for the person who has it. For example, with children younger than 6 years, stuttering may come and go over days or months. In older children and adults, stuttering may vary according to the situation in which communication occurs. For example, there may be little stuttering when talking to a close friend or family member, but a lot of stuttering when talking to a group of strangers.
What Causes Stuttering?
There are many theories and popular beliefs about what causes stuttering. However, despite considerable scientific research from the second half of the 20th century onwards, the cause of the disorder remains a mystery. All we can say at present is that stuttering is most likely due to some problem with the neural processing of the brain areas that support speech production. In other words, individuals inherit a problem where speech muscles won’t do what they should do, when they are needed to do it. However, at present it is not known for certain how that genetic susceptibility works, and the precise nature of the trouble with neural speech processing is not known. The problem begins to appear as young children develop their language skills.
In short, stuttering is thought to be a physical disorder and is not caused by psychological factors such as nervousness or stress, or parenting practices or the way parents communicate with their children when they are young. Nothing about parenting style or the family environment is known to cause stuttering. Stuttering tends to run in families, and it is generally accepted that this is because genetics is involved in the cause. However, the precise nature of the inheritance is unknown at present. Psychological factors such as anxiety or stress can complicate the problem if it persists into late childhood and adolescence.
Onset of Stuttering
Most often, stuttering begins well before 6 years of age, commonly in three year olds. It is different from many other speech and language disorders at that age, because it begins after a period of normal speech and language development.
Stuttering is common. A recent study that followed a group of Australian infants found that by 36 months of age 8.5% of them had begun to stutter, and more began to stutter during later years of life. Onset typically occurs as children are starting to put words together into short sentences. The onset of stuttering can be gradual or sudden, and at onset the severity of stuttering ranges from mild to severe. In a few cases, onset can be so sudden and severe that parents think their child has a serious illness. In most cases, the first sign of stuttering is the child repeating words such as “I…I…I…wanna…” or “Where…where…where is ….? “
Stuttering may change in appearance soon after onset and the child may start to adopt fixed postures of the speech mechanism. In other words, instead of repeating syllables, the child may, for example, hold the lips and tongue in one position for brief periods. This can seem to be a complete stoppage of speech as the child attempts to start a word, such as “………can I have a drink.” Soon after onset sounds may be prolonged during moments of stuttering, such as in “wwwwwwwwhere is my drink?” Often, as stuttering develops, children show signs of effort and struggle while speaking.
Some children recover from stuttering naturally, although the exact rate of recovery and the average time taken to recovery is not known. It is important to begin treatment of stuttering some time shortly after onset during the preschool years (prior to beginning school): one year at the most. It is known that few children will have recovered without treatment by then. At present it is not possible to say whether an individual child will recover naturally.
The impact of Stuttering on daily life
During adulthood, the impact of stuttering on people varies. For example, some who stutter may experience frustration and anxiety about speaking, while others may not be affected in the same way. Stuttering can interfere with communication as soon as it begins in children. Sometimes, children show signs of frustration about their stuttering soon after onset.
It is common for school-age children during the ages of 7-12 years, to report feelings of embarrassment about stuttering when answering questions or reading aloud in class. Adults whose work requires effective communication may find their stuttering prevents attainment of their vocational potential.
Stuttering may interfere with people’s social interactions and may lead to development of social anxiety. Social anxiety can seriously affect day-to-day life. More seriously, it is known that adults who come to speech clinics for help with their stuttering are greatly at risk of having a condition known as social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is a debilitating psychological problem involving constant and excessive fear of humiliation, embarrassment and negative evaluation in social or performance-based situations or when talking in front of others.