How Stuttering Works

Current Therapies
Speech therapist Lionel Logue treated King George VI's (shown here) stutter. Their relationship is depicted in the 2010 movie "The King's Speech." Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As mentioned earlier, 5 percent of kids go through a stuttering phase, and of that number, 75 percent outgrow the phase. So, when a kid begins to stutter, specialists recommend waiting at least three months to see if it lasts. If it does, they often suggest to parents a set of protocols to help their children in overcome disfluencies.

According to the NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the first step is to make sure kids have plenty of opportunities to talk, and that those aren't curtailed. Kids need to feel like they have room to express themselves. Additionally, speech pathologists often recommend that parents listen as patiently as they can to their kids, taking care not to interrupt them or finish their sentences if there are pauses or other disfluencies. Parents should also focus on what is being said, rather than the manner of expression. It's important that kids feel like they can communicate, even if they're stuttering. Accordingly, parents can slow down their own speech to let their kids know there's no rush to blurt everything out. And if a kid asks about stuttering, specialists recommend being as honest as possible about it, emphasizing that disfluencies are nothing to worry about.

The agency goes on to say that for those who continue to stutter into adolescence and adulthood, speech therapy can reduce disfluencies by helping them slow down their speech, control their breathing and retrain their speech patterns by starting with one-syllable utterances and slowly advancing to compound sentences. While early psychoanalytic practices often held that neurotic anxiety was at the root of stuttering, a more contemporary understanding is that stuttering itself can induce anxiety, which in turn makes the stuttering problem even worse. Pathologists teach strategies for managing this speech-related anxiety.

Currently, there is a movement to use specially conceived electronic devices to help people reduce their incidences of stuttering. One such device, which looks a bit like a hearing aid, changes the sound of the speaker's voice and replays it so that the speaker feels like he or she is talking in unison with somebody else. Electronic interventions help some stutterers overcome disfluency at a rapid pace.

Finally, the agency notes that many stutterers seem to do well in the forum of a support group, which can help people maintain ongoing self-study and deal with the challenges they face as a community.

Author's Note: How Stuttering Works

When I was a kid, I didn't know anybody who stuttered. So, when I saw "A Fish Called Wanda," I thought Michael Palin's portrayal of the stuttering (or as the English say, "stammering") Ken was screamingly funny. But then my town hired a new manager, and when I went to the town hall to register to vote, I learned that he had a severe stutter. Seeing how difficult it was for him to talk made me realize that stuttering isn't really a source of comedy, and I've always been impressed by the courage it must have taken to work as a public servant with a stutter.

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More Great Links


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