Definition: what is this disability?
Approximately 1% of the population suffers from stuttering. However, this problem still remains largely unknown or often a victim of prejudice. Stuttering is a problem which affects the flow of speech and is characterised by a repetition or lengthening of sounds, syllables, hesitations and frequent pauses.
When it is a severe issue, stuttering can be classed as a communication problem and even a disability. Nevertheless, the way these problems present themselves vary from one person to another. The majority of people affected by this problem begin to show their first signs during their childhood. But stuttering can also appear as a consequence of an accident or an emotional shock for those who have never experienced such a shock before.
For children between 2 to 3 years old, stuttering is common and mild, be it when they are learning to speak or searching for their words etc. Only if the problem persists or gets worse in the following years does it generally become grounds for concern.
Symptoms of stuttering
Specialists have identified and named various audible and distinct characteristics of this disorder. It is generally known as “clonic” stuttering when a syllable is repeated and “tonic” stuttering when the pronunciation of a word appears to be blocked and the sounds end up being elongated. The two types can however be linked (“clonic-tonic”). In addition, specialists have categorised four degrees of seriousness. The first is mild and only gives rise to a few speech problems, whilst not really affecting communication.
The second is a bit more distinct with more frequent or prolonged problems, causing words to be interrupted. The third is more severe and involves occurrences that are more common and prolonged. Indeed, physical problems can also be linked to this, such as respiratory spasms, muscle tensions which enhance stuttering even more. Finally, the fourth degree is described as almost preventing all communication, judging by the significance of the stutter and the problems associated with this.
But this classification is only an indication because for the individual, the gravity of the stutter can be more or less dependent on the day, the situation, the person they’re talking to etc. In addition, the same person can have perfectly “fluid” elocution one moment, yet start to stutter again a few minutes later. Most of the time, it’s not really the phrase that they find difficult but the circumstances in which it must be said. It is therefore rare that the stutterer has these problems when they are alone, talking to themselves, to an animal or singing.
Causes of stuttering
In light of this, some people think that stuttering is a purely psychological issue, but research carried out in the past few years has shown otherwise. If the person’s state of mind plays a role in the development, stuttering is a complex issue with multiple factors being the cause. Studies have particularly shown that in terms of family history, the risk of becoming a stutterer is higher if someone in your family before you also was. Coming away from that though, researchers have also identified various genetic mutations that encourage stuttering to develop.
But there could also be neurological causes and in truth, researchers have found significant, anatomic and functional differences in the brains of stutterers and non-stutterers. In some regions of the left hemisphere of the brain, the proportion of grey matter appears denser with less neuronal connections. However at the same time, other regions of the same hemisphere appear super-activated, in the same way as they do in the right hemisphere.
Researchers assume that the brain would try in this way to compensate for the anomalies on the left side. However, the exact concerned mechanisms involved remain very unclear. What’s more, other environmental and psychological factors could encourage stuttering developing from childhood. Judging from one individual to another, the causes of stuttering are therefore very varied.
Treatments for stuttering
Support and managing the stutter can also vary for the stutterer depending on a number of factors, such as their age, history, the severity of their stutter etc. In regards to children, the problem can disappear if treated carefully and early on. If the stutter continues when they are an adult, it is more difficult to overcome, but it is possible for stutterers to completely overcome this disorder and manage to speak without stuttering.
In order to achieve this, there are different techniques which exist to allow the stutterer to have better control over their speech and also reduce the amount of repetitions and hesitations. The most classic technique is having sessions with a speech therapist. These can be carried out if necessary by cognitive behavioural therapy which helps the stutterer to better manage their stress and discomfort that is associated with their stutter.
The efficiency and success of these methods varies from one person to another. Furthermore, various molecules have been tested and it seems that there is no known medicinal treatment that is effective against stuttering. Some treatments can alleviate the stutter for a certain period of time but not get rid of it. There is also no operation that can be done to get rid of it either.
Stuttering: let’s talk about the issue
Stuttering is a non-visible issue but one which involves a true disability. Those who are affected can feel limited in terms of their professional life, social life and can isolate themselves. This can then lead to a truly vicious cycle and make the stutter worse.
This is why it is important for stutterers to discuss their issues and the consequences that it has had on their daily lives. In order to do this, there are a number of groups and associations that have been created throughout France such as the Association Parole-Bégaiement (Speech-stuttering association) which organises events and courses all year long.