All about stuttering

Posted on 16 April 2013

Did you know that most young children are dysfluent at some point? For those who don’t outgrow it, this dysfluency may lead to stuttering that follows them into adulthood. Moses, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Carly Simon, James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis and King George VI are a few examples of famous people who stutter. Dina Lilian who established the Stuttering Clinic at the Wits Donald Gordon hospital and is the South African representative for the ISA (International Stuttering Association) and ICA (International Cluttering Association), provides insight into stuttering and its causes.

What is stuttering?
Stuttering (otherwise known as stammering) is a communication disorder characterised by disruptions in the forward flow of speech such as repetitions of parts of words (‘mi-mi-mi-miss’), prolongations of sounds (‘sssssseven’) and/or complete blockages of sound (at times no sound is emitted or only a strained/strangled sound emerges). Speech dysfluencies may be accompanied by physical tension or struggle. Associated behaviours may include blinking, grimacing, avoiding eye contact, avoiding talking and foot tapping. People who stutter may avoid certain words or situations they think will cause them difficulty.

What causes stuttering?
Although research into the cause of stuttering is ongoing, no definitive answers have yet been established. What is known is that the causes, like speech itself, are complex.
Research suggests a complicated interplay of a combination of factors including genetics (approximately 60% of those who stutter have a family member who also stutters), child development, neurophysiology and family dynamics contribute to the development of stuttering.

Is stuttering caused by emotional or psychological problems?
Children and adults who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than children and adults who do not. However, stuttering may cause a person to become anxious and fear some speaking situations.

How many people stutter?
One percent of the population stutters and stuttering affects four times as many males as females.

Who is affected by stuttering?
People from all areas of the world spanning all personality types, social classes and ethnic groups have reported stuttering for centuries. Stuttering does not affect any particular social group. It does not strike only at the exceptionally gifted or the academically challenged. All evidence and research suggest that people who stutter are, as a group, no less intellectually, academically or emotionally well functioning than their peers. They are not, by definition, nervous, anxious, unhappy, unintelligible or anything other than people who may display difficult speaking.

In her next post Dina Lilian discusses the effects stuttering may have as well as treatments that could help.

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(Sourced from The Stuttering Foundation and the British Stammering Association, and compiled by Dina Lilian.)

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