What is stuttering?
Stuttering is a condition affecting the fluency of speech. In some cases, it begins in childhood and may persist throughout life. The condition is characterised by interruptions in the production of sounds during speech, known as disfluencies or dysrhythmias. There are 2 types of stuttering:
- Tonic stuttering: the problem is a block at the start of speech.
- Clonic stuttering: the problem is mild muscle contractions that cause repetition of sounds or syllables during speech. In some cases, disfluencies only occur from time to time, i.e. they are not a cause for concern. We refer to it as a disorder when the disfluencies adversely affect the ability to communicate.
Stuttering appears between the ages of 2-7 years when children start to develop their faculty of speech. It is rare for the condition to appear after the age of 10; there are, however, isolated cases in which the condition developed during adolescence. In around 80% of cases, the stutter resolves before the age of 16 years. Sex is a factor too, given that the resolution rate is higher in girls. It is also believed that a genetic predisposition plays an important role in the speech disorder, which tends to run in families.
Symptoms of stuttering
People with a stutter may:
- Repeat sounds, experience blocks and prolong parts of words or whole words.
- Pause between words or within a word.
- Choose simple words instead of those that are more difficult to produce.
- Become tense and ill-at-ease when speaking.
- Add “uh” and “em” in the middle of sentences.
- Add irrelevant words or sentences.
Medical tests for stuttering
The medical tests consist of observations and interviews during the communication process to identify obvious disfluencies. These tests must be done by a speech therapist. These tests are more exhaustive in children than in adults, given that, in addition to the initial evaluation, certain genetic factors are taken into consideration.
What are the causes of stuttering?
The principal cause of stuttering is genetic, i.e. it can be inherited. Stuttering may also be caused by brain damage, i.e. following stroke or traumatic injury. In some cases, the condition may be due to emotional trauma.
Can it be prevented?
There are some measures that can be taken to prevent stuttering. It is easier to prevent this condition at younger ages. Some tips:
- Create a calm atmosphere in which the person feels safe and understood. Tense situations only make the problem worse.
- Encourage self-control techniques, such as breathing. This is helpful in dealing with tense situations in which the condition develops.
- If the condition develops in children, it is important to set an example by speaking without hurrying, in a relaxed manner and articulating words.
- Be patient while the stutterer finishes their sentence
Treatment of stuttering
Currently, there is no cure for this condition. However, there is a great variety of treatments, depending on the person’s age, communication targets.
- Therapies to help them and show them how to minimise the stutter while talking, especially in adults and adolescents.
- Medications: although no medications have been specifically approved for stuttering, there are some medications that can improve some consequences of stuttering, e.g. anxiety and depression.
- Electronic devices to control the fluency of speech. Some of these devices are similar to hearing aids: they are placed inside the ear and digitally reproduce a version of the user’s voice, which helps to improve fluency.
Which specialist treats it?
The specialist who treats this condition is a speech therapist, who studies, detects, evaluates, diagnoses and treats communication disorders.