Approximately 70 million people around the world stutter and more than 3 million people in the United States stutter. Stuttering usually starts in childhood between the ages of 2½ and 4 years, and sometimes continues into adulthood.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a condition that affects a person’s speech. Boys are 3-4 times more likely to stutter than girls. Both guys and girls who stutter know what they want to say but they have trouble saying it. Sounds are often repeated and words take longer to say. Stuttering effects people differently.
People who stutter may feel frustrated and embarrassed because they have trouble communicating. If you have a friend or classmate who stutters, it’s important to be patient and not tease them.
What are the signs of stuttering?
A person who stutters is likely to:
- Repeat words or sounds (Example: “How old, old, old are you?”)
- Have trouble starting a phrase (Example: “W- W- W- What is your name?”)
- Start a word or phrase with “uh” or “um” (Example: “My um, um, favorite color is green”)
- Stop mid-sentence while they are talking
Stuttering can be very stressful for a person who is struggling to communicate. People who stutter may also have other symptoms that are unrelated to speech such as rapid blinking of the eyes, tightening of muscles in the face, and tremors or “shaking” of the mouth. The effects of stuttering on a person who is having difficulty communicating greatly depends on how others react to them.
What causes stuttering?
Doctors are not exactly sure what causes stuttering. Researchers think that there’s more than one reason (a multifactorial disorder) why someone stutters.
- Scientists believe that people who stutter process language differently than those who do not stutter. This may be due to signaling problems in the brain.
- Stuttering often runs in families. Recently scientists think there may also be a genetic link.
- Young children may stutter when the language center of their brain is not developed enough to make the sounds of the words they want to say. “Developmental” stuttering usually goes away by age 4.
- An injury to the brain caused from an accident or something else can affect a person’s speech either temporarily or permanently.
We do know that stuttering is NOT psychological, nor is it a bad habit.
How is stuttering diagnosed?
A person may think they have a problem with stuttering but in order to diagnosis a speech problem, an evaluation is needed by a specialist such as a certified speech language pathologist or “SLP” for short.
The SLP will:
- Take a history and ask questions such as: “When did you first notice that you were stuttering?”, “When does it usually happen?”, “Is there anything that makes it worse?”, and “Do you have any family members who stutter?”
- Ask you “Do you take any prescription or over-the-counter medicines? If yes, what do you take?”
- Observe the way you talk.
- Check your hearing.
How is stuttering treated?
There is no “cure” for stuttering at this time, however there are effective treatments that can help make a huge difference. Treatment will depend on a person’s age and their symptoms. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) evaluates each person and develops an individualized plan using behavioral change methods. These are special techniques that can help improve function of the language center of the brain to:
- Control how quickly you speak
- Use shorter sentences and phrases when you talk
- Monitor your breathing
Over time, therapy with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) helps people who stutter to communicate much better!
Teens and others who stutter may be bullied, teased and have low self-esteem. Stuttering can cause stress and anxiety and make a person avoid social situations. If you have been stuttering longer than 3-6 months, be sure to talk to your primary care provider and find out about getting a referral to see a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). Remember, you are not alone and there are treatments that can help. If other people’s comments or behavior toward you are causing you to feel sad, lonely, or angry, it may be helpful to talk to a counselor about the situation.
If you have a friend, sibling or classmate who stutters, be patient when they are speaking. Remember that people who stutter want to be treated like everyone else. Give them time to say what they want to say without trying to finish their sentences. If you don’t know how to respond, ask them how they would like you to react. Above all, NEVER tease them. If you see others being unkind, it’s important to step in and offer support or tell a trusted adult.