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New Hope for People That Stutter

Updated on October 21, 2020
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After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Wikimedia commons Winston Churchill Stuttered
Wikimedia commons Winston Churchill Stuttered

Stuttering Symptoms

It has been a mystery over so many years as to why people stutter. I remember so well listening to Mel Tillis when I was young because he stuttered so much when he spoke but was able to sing without stuttering at all.

About three million people stutter, affecting four times as many males as females and people of all ages. Although it occurs most often in children ages 2-5 as they develop their language skills, and it can last from a few weeks to several years.

Boys are twice as likely as girls to stutter, and as they age they are 3-4 times more likely to continue stuttering. However, most children outgrow stuttering and only about 1% of adults stutter.

Speech Disorder

Stuttering is a speech disorder where sounds, syllables or words are repeated or prolonged disrupting the normal speech flow. You will also often see accompanying behaviors of rapid eye blinking or tremors of the lips which are really signs of struggling. This problem can certainly negatively impact the quality of an individual’s life.

It affects the fluency of speech, involving involuntary hesitation, repetition, (such as ca-ca-ca-candy) or prolongations (such as llllike). The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called "disfluencies.” Most people have some disfluencies occasionally, like using “um” or “uh” preceding the word you want to say.

They are not necessarily a problem except then may impede communication when a person uses too many of them. For some people communication difficulties happen under certain circumstances; they may have a problem when speaking in front of a group or even talking on the phone with anxiety being the root cause.

Other people may try to hide the problem by limiting their participation in particular activities or rearranging the words in sentences (known as circumlocution), pretending to forget what they wanted to say and others may simply decide not to speak.

Contributing Causes of Stuttering

According to The Stuttering Foundation there are for factors that are most likely to contribute to the development of stuttering:

  • Genetics (approximately 60% of those who stutter has a family member who does also)
  • Child development (children with other speech and language problems or developmental delays are more likely to stutter)
  • Neurophysiology (recent research has shown that people who stutter process speech and language in different areas of the brain than those who do not stutter)
  • Family dynamics (high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles can contribute to stuttering).

Mel Tillis Commercial

Carly Simon Struggled with Sutttering

Entertainment news
Entertainment news

New Study Gives New Hope for Cure

Diagnosing stuttering would seem to be simple on the surface as you would only have to listen to the person talk, however, stuttering can affect more than just the person’s observable speech. There are characteristics requiring a certified speech-language pathologist to diagnose.

A pathologist will note the number and types of speech disfluencies a person produces. In their diagnoses they will gather other facts, such as teasing that make the problem worse. They use a variety of assessments, such as speech rate and language skills.

Age and history are factors and general information about the individual is analyzed to determine whether a fluency disorder exists and if it does, then to what degree does the disorder interfere with the person’s ability to perform and participate in their normal daily activities

It had long been thought to be an emotional problem; it’s been blamed on very authoritarian parents and browbeating teachers. Scientists for the first time have found genes that could explain some cases of stuttering. Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation stated, “in terms of myth busters this is really an important step forward.”

Government Funded Study

There has been a government-funded study that has discovered mutation in three genes that appear to cause the speech problem in some people. This research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. Stuttering tends to run in families, so researchers assumed a genetic connection for many years, and it was believed to be more prevalent in nervous individuals. Up until this time they had been unable to pinpoint any particular gene causing the problem.

This new research holds hope for treatment with an enzyme treatment for stuttering in the future. Stutterers have had a rough road as people make fun of them; they’ve been told it’s all in their head, etc. While stress and anxiety can exacerbate stuttering it does not cause it. In the research they started with a large inbred Pakistani family who had many members who stuttered and they found a mutation on chromosome 12.

Then they found the same mutation on two other mutated genes in a group of nearly 400 others using the people from Pakistan, others from England and the United States. While they have found these 3 mutations, they believe that they only account for 9% of stuttering cases. They will continue to look for other genes as they believe 50%-70% of stuttering cases have a genetic component. The future does hold the promise of a cure for most cases with enough research.

Actor Jame Earl Jones Stuggled with Stuttering

Therapy for Individuals that Stutter

There are many different types of speech therapy for stuttering. I noted many individuals who have their own programs with home study, DVD’s, etc. listed on the internet. The Stuttering Foundation states there are many types of therapy and workshops that help people who stutter. They listed some basic clinical skills from their workbook which include tools for change with the following components:

  • Soft starts
  • Changing rate
  • Voluntary stuttering
  • Holding and tolerating the moment of stuttering
  • Pullouts
  • Cancellations

These categories were not explained in any more detail but are fairly obvious as to what they entail.

Mel Tillis Talks of Struggle with Stuttering.

Mel Tillis has talked openly about his stuttering problem and the effect on his life, particularly in his younger years. “I wish I could tell you that I have cured myself of stuttering, but I can’t. It’s still very much a part of my life. I have come to think of it (the stutter) as my old friend. It’s always there and will always be there.

Stuttering, unfortunately, is the only handicap that I can think of that makes people laugh, and hey!, they’ll laugh in your face, too. I was six years old and attending Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Plant City, Florida, when I realized that no one was immune to laughter. So I said to myself, “Well, if they’re gonna laugh at me, then I’ll give them something to laugh about.” I have for fifty-nine years. It was pretty rough those first six grades, but Mama said, “Kids will be kids,” and Mama was right. “Course, it was hard for me to understand it at the time.”

One of my high school teachers brought to my attention one of the world’s greatest ancient Greek orators of all times. His name was Demosthenes, and he had a speech defect, which was an inarticulate and stammering pronunciation. He overcame this by speaking with pebbles in his mouth and by reciting verses while running out of breath. He also practiced speaking before a large mirror.

He was laughed at by many, but he persevered. One day, while skipping rocks on Lake Okeechobee, I thought about Demosthenes, and I said to myself, “Well, if it worked for ol’ Demosthenes it might work for me.” Well friend, I loaded my mouth up with several nice pebbles and proceeded to talk to the lake. I didn’t get very far into Shakespeare’s “T-T-T-TO B-B-BE OR NOT T-T-TO B-B-BE” before swallowing about half of them. That ended that experiment!”

Famous People that Stuttered

There are an amazing number of very well known people who have suffered from stuttering but had a marvelous careers: Many of the names surprised me as I never heard them stutter.

This is the list of several well known celebrities:

  • England’s Prime Minister - Winston Churchill and King George VI,
  • Well known author – John Updike
  • Vice President - Joe Biden
  • Actress - Marilyn Monroe
  • Baseball star - Kenyon Martin
  • Reporter in broadcast journalism - John Stossel,
  • Nicholas Brendan - of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Singer - Carly Simon
  • Actor - James Earl Jones
  • Bob Love
  • Actor – Bruce Willis
  • Actor – Jimmy Steward
  • Author- Somerset Maugham
  • Golfer – Tiger Woods
  • NFL football star – Darren Sproles
  • Former prizefighter – Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

The list could go on and on.

When you think of this list of people that have struggled with stuttering and their ability to overcome, you know that anything is possible when you dream big. Stuttering does not have to ruin your life. It takes therapy and patience for most people to recover. It is a difficult thing for younger children, as children are not necessarily kind but fortunately most do outgrow the problem

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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