In many instances the speech disturbance appears to be precipitated by such situations as a change of surroundings, the advent of a younger child in the family, or by a family environment in which parents are overly concerned with childhood speech interruptions, which occur normally. Negative reactions to the stuttering frequently create feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, which, in turn, intensify the condition. Parents with young children who stutter have been urged by specialists to help their children develop positive attitudes about themselves and their speech. Older stutterers are taught to understand what processes interfere with fluent speech and to speak without the disruptions caused by tension. Psychiatric treatment and group psychotherapy have been helpful for many.
See M. Jezer, Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (1997).
Stuttering, also known as stammering in the United Kingdom, is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases, and involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the stutterer is unable to produce sounds. 'Verbal non-fluency' is the accepted umbrella term for such speech impediments. The term stuttering is most commonly associated with involuntary sound repetition, but it also encompasses the abnormal hesitation or pausing before speech, referred to by stutterers as blocks, and the prolongation of certain sounds, usually vowels and semi-vowels. The term "stuttering", as popularly used, covers a wide spectrum of severity: it may encompass individuals with barely perceptible impediments, for whom the disorder is largely cosmetic, as well as others with extremely severe symptoms, for whom the problem can effectively prevent most oral communication. The emotional state of the individual who stutters in response to the stuttering often constitutes the most difficult aspect of the disorder. Much of what constitutes "stuttering" cannot be noted by the listener; this includes such things as sound and word fears, situational fears, anxiety, tension, self-pity, stress, shame, and a feeling of "loss of control" during speech.
Stuttering is generally not a problem with the physical production of speech sounds or putting thoughts into words. Despite popular perceptions to the contrary, stuttering does not affect and has no bearing on intelligence. Apart from their speech impediment, people who stutter may well be 'normal' in the clinical sense of the term. Anxiety, low self-esteem, nervousness, and stress therefore do not cause stuttering per se, although they are very often the result of living with a highly stigmatized disability and, in turn, exacerbate the problem.
The disorder is also variable, which means that in certain situations, such as talking on the telephone, the stuttering might be more severe or less, depending on the anxiety level connected with that activity. Although the exact etiology of stuttering is unknown, both genetics and neurophysiology are thought to contribute. Although there are many treatments and speech therapy techniques available that may help increase fluency in some stutterers, there is essentially no "cure" for the disorder at present.
Secondary stuttering behaviors are unrelated to speech production and are learned behaviors which become linked to the primary behaviors.
Secondary behaviors include escape behaviors, in which a stutterer attempts to terminate a moment of stuttering. Examples might be physical movements such as sudden loss of eye contact, eye-blinking, head jerks, hand tapping, interjected "starter" sounds and words, such as "um," "ah," "you know". In many cases, these devices work at first, and are therefore reinforced, becoming a habit that is subsequently difficult to break.
Secondary behaviors also refer to the use of avoidance strategies such avoiding specific words, people or situations that the person finds difficult. Some stutterers successfully use extensive avoidance of situations and words to maintain fluency and may have little or no evidence of primary stuttering behaviors. Such covert stutterers may have high levels of anxiety, and extreme fear of even the most mild disfluency.
Psychogenic stuttering may also arise after a traumatic experience such as a bereavement, the breakup of a relationship or as the psychological reaction to physical trauma. Its symptoms tend to be homogeneous: the stuttering is of sudden onset and associated with a significant event, it is constant and uninfluenced by different speaking situations, and there is little awareness or concern shown by the speaker.
In some stutterers, congenital factors may play a role. These may include physical trauma at or around birth, including cerebral palsy, retardation, or stressful situations, such as the birth of a sibling, moving, or a sudden growth in linguistic ability.
There is clear empirical evidence for structural and functional differences in the brains of stutterers. Research is complicated somewhat by the possibility that such differences could be the consequences of stuttering rather than a cause, but recent research on older children confirm structural differences thereby giving strength to the argument that at least some of the differences are not a consequence of stuttering.
Auditory processing deficits have also been proposed as a cause of stuttering. Stuttering is less prevalent in deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and stuttering may be improved when auditory feedback is altered, such as masking, delayed auditory feedback (DAF), or frequency altered feedback. There is some evidence that the functional organization of the auditory cortex may be different in stutterers.
There is evidence of differences in linguistic processing between stutterers and non-stutterers. Brain scans of adult stutterers have found increased activation of the right hemisphere, which is associated with emotions, than in the left hemisphere, which is associated with speech. In addition reduced activation in the left auditory cortex has been observed.
The capacities and demands model has been proposed to account for the heterogeneity of the disorder. In this approach, speech performance varies depending on the capacity that the individual has for producing fluent speech, and the demands placed upon the person by the speaking situation. Capacity for fluent speech, which may affected by a predisposition to the disorder, auditory processing or motor speech deficits, and cognitive or affective issues. Demands may be increased by internal factors such as lack of confidence or self esteem or inadequate language skills or external factors such as peer pressure, time pressure, stressful speaking situations, insistence on perfect speech etc. In stuttering, the severity of the disorder is seen as likely to increase when demands placed on the person's speech and language system is exceeded by their capacity to deal to these pressures.
Stutterers are trained to reduce their speaking rate by stretching vowels and consonants, and using other fluency techniques such as continuous airflow and soft speech contacts. The result is very slow, monotonic, but fluent speech used only in the speech clinic. After the stutterer masters these fluency skills, the speaking rate and intonation are increased gradually. This more normal-sounding, fluent speech is then transferred to daily life outside the speech clinic, though lack of speech naturalness at the end of treatment remains a frequent criticism. Fluency shaping approaches are often taught in intensive group therapy programs, which may take two to three weeks to complete, but more recently the Camperdown program, using a much shorter schedule, has been shown to be effective.
As proposed by Van Riper, stuttering modification therapy has four overlapping stages:
Once stuttering has become established, and the child has developed secondary behaviors, the prognosis is more guarded, and only 18% of children who stutter after five years recover spontaneously. However, with treatment young children may be left with little evidence of stuttering.
With adult stutterers, there is no known cure, though they may make partial recovery with intervention. Stutterers often learn to stutter less severely and be less affected emotionally, though others may make no progress with therapy.
Stuttering occurs in all cultures and races, and at similar rates. A US-based study indicated that there were no racial or ethnic differences in the incidence of stuttering in preschool children. Summarizing prevalence studies, E. Cooper and C. Cooper conclude: “On the basis of the data currently available, it appears the prevalence of fluency disorders varies among the cultures of the world, with some indications that the prevalence of fluency disorders labeled as stuttering is higher among black populations than white or Asian populations” (Cooper & Cooper, 1993:197)
Galen's humoral theories remained influential in Europe into the Middle Ages and beyond. In this theory, stuttering was attributed to imbalances of the four bodily humors: yellow bile, blood, black bile, and phlegm. Hieronymus Mercurialis, writing in the sixteenth century, proposed methods to redress the imbalance including changes in diet, reduced lovemaking (in men only), and purging. Believing that fear aggravated stuttering, he suggested techniques to overcome this. Humoral manipulation continued to be a dominant treatment for stuttering until the eighteenth century. Partly due to a perceived lack of intelligence because of his stutter, the man who became the Roman Emperor Claudius was initially shunned from the public eye and excluded from public office.
In eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, surgical interventions for stuttering were recommended, including cutting the tongue with scissors, removing a triangular wedge from the posterior tongue, cutting nerves, and neck and lip muscles. Others recommended shortening the uvula or removing the tonsils. All were abandoned due to the high danger of bleeding to death and their failure to stop stuttering. Less drastically, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard placed a small forked golden plate under the tongue in order to support "weak" muscles.
Italian pathologist Giovanni Morgagni attributed stuttering to deviations in the hyoid bone, a conclusion he came to via autopsy. Blessed Notker of St. Gall (ca. 840–912), called Balbulus (“The Stutterer”) and described by his biographer as being "delicate of body but not of mind, stuttering of tongue but not of intellect, pushing boldly forward in things Divine," was invoked against stammering.
Other famous Englishmen who stammered were King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the UK through World War II. George VI went through years of speech therapy for his stammer. Churchill claimed, perhaps not directly discussing himself, "Sometimes a slight and not unpleasing stammer or impediment has been of some assistance in securing the attention of the audience...". However, those who knew Churchill and commented on his stutter believed that it was or had been a significant problem for him. His secretary Phyllis Moir in her 1941 book 'I was Winston Churchill's Private Secretary' commented that 'Winston Churchill was born and grew up with a stutter'. Moir writes also about one incident 'It’s s s simply s s splendid” he stuttered, as he always did when excited.’ Louis J. Alber. who helped to arrange a lecture tour of the United States wrote in Volume 55 of The American Mercury (1942) ‘Churchill struggled to express his feelings but his stutter caught him in the throat and his face turned purple' and ‘Born with a stutter and a lisp, both caused in large measure by a defect in his palate, Churchill was at first seriously hampered in his public speaking. It is characteristic of the man’s perseverance that, despite his staggering handicap, he made himself one of the greatest orators of our time.’ (More on Churchill at )
For centuries "cures" such as consistently drinking water from a snail shell for the rest of one's life, "hitting a stutterer in the face when the weather is cloudy", strengthening the tongue as a muscle, and various herbal remedies were used. Similarly, in the past people have subscribed to theories about the causes of stuttering which today are considered odd. Proposed causes of stuttering have included tickling an infant too much, eating improperly during breastfeeding, allowing an infant to look in the mirror, cutting a child's hair before the child spoke his or her first words, having too small a tongue, or the "work of the devil."
Jazz and Euro Dance musician Scatman John wrote the song "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)" to help children who stutter overcome adversity. Born John Paul Larkin, Scatman spoke with a stutter himself, and won the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's Annie Glenn Award for outstanding service to the stuttering community.