13-year-old Braden Harrington stole the show at the Democratic National Convention. Facing the entire nation, Braden bravely described his meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, a man who shares his condition- stuttering.
Famous people such as Winston Churchill, Bruce Willis, King George VI, and Marilyn Monroe all stuttered. Stuttering affects people of all ages but occurs most often in children.
As I watched this courageous adolescent boy stand up and share his experience, I wondered what caused stuttering?
Once I wiped the tears from my eyes, I was able to begin my research.
More than 70 million people worldwide stutter, but scientists do not know the exact cause of this language disorder. According to the New England Journal of medicine, stuttering may be the result of a glitch in key regions of the brain. Our best understanding is stuttering is caused by a combination of genetic, neurological, and developmental factors.
What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a speech disorder characterized by recurring problems with speech disruptions and the flow of speech. This communication disorder causes speech patterns in an atypical rate and rhythm.
Some may demonstrate repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases. Stuttering causes broken repetitions, prolongations of sounds, or abnormal stoppages known as blocks.
Our brains send signals through nerves to coordinate precise muscle movements to create speech sounds. The coordinated movements between breaths and muscles help form words. Muscles in the face, throat, palate, tongue, and lips all play a role.
People who stutter know what they want to say but have trouble producing the words or certain syllables. The medical term is dysfluent speech.
Speaking may result in unusual facial or body movements such as rapid eye blinking or lip tremors as muscle tension and coordination is disrupted.
Roughly 1% of the world stutters. It is most common in children age 2–6, when language development occurs. Stuttering is five times more common in boys. The prevalence is similar in all social classes
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all children stutter at some point during language development. 75% grow out of it, but 25% continue with a lifelong communication disorder.
What causes stuttering?
Experts do not know the exact cause of stuttering. Stuttering is divided into two categories: developmental and neurogenic. Neurogenic stuttering occurs after a stroke, head trauma, or other types of brain injury. Developmental stuttering is the most common.
NIH research summarizes our current understanding of developmental stuttering as a combination of four factors :
- Genetics– 60% of those who stutter have a family history. Twin studies also show a familial link. Researches identified four different genetic mutations to be associated with stuttering.
- Neurophysiology– Recent brain imaging studies have shown consistent differences in those who stutter compared to nonstuttering peers.
- Family dynamics -High familial expectations and stress may contribute to stuttering.
- Child development– Some evidence shows developmental stuttering occurs when children’s speech and language abilities are unable to meet the child’s verbal demands.
How is stuttering diagnosed and treated?
Speech pathologists are health professionals who diagnose and treat these language disorders. A basic workup includes evaluation of:
- The onset of stuttering
- Family history
- Motor stuttering behaviors
- Overall speech and language abilities
- The impact of stuttering on the child’s life
The speech pathologist will assess if the child is likely to outgrow the behavior or benefit from continued therapy. The NIH provides a directly of organizations that offer help for communication disorders here.
There is currently no cure for stuttering. Health professions often recommend speech therapy if stuttering has persisted for six months or if there is a family history of dysfluent speech.
Speech therapy helps children learn techniques to minimize stuttering by slowing down speech patterns, regulating breathing, and coping with anxiety.
Self-help groups help people who stutter find support and recourses to help overcome the challenges. Westutter.org is the largest non-profit organization in the world designed to provide education, advocacy, and research for those who need help.
Impact of stuttering
The individual experience with stuttering varies from person to person. A constant struggle to communicate with others impacts the quality of life and relationships.
Many individuals develop social anxiety and avoidance behaviors that impact future job opportunities.