Did You Know?According to The Stuttering Foundation of America, "Approximately 5% of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more. Three-quarters of those will recover by late childhood, leaving about 1% with a long-term problem."
It is quite natural to assume that the concepts of stammering and stuttering involve a set of defining qualities that set them apart. That is not the case though. Stammering and stuttering mean the absolute same thing. In fact, they are used interchangeably in different countries merely to bring about a variation in vocabulary. Much like the words elevator (US) and lift (UK).
What is Stammering and Stuttering?
Stammering, stuttering or disfluency is a type of communication and speech disorder due to which, when a person speaks, his normal flow of speech is punctured by certain factors like repetitions of a word and/or syllable (he, he, he said that), prolongation of a particular word and/or syllable (hhhheeeeee said that), sudden breaks in words and/or syllables which lead to blocks in speech and produce no sound (the mouth might be fixed in a particular expression but there is no sound produced) or lead to certain disfluencies in speech (umm, ah, he said that...umm).
These speech impediments may have a severe negative effect on a person's life and lead to a plethora of problems like low self-esteem and negative self image, along with others.
What are the Signs?
Along with including factors like prolongation of words, break in speech, certain disfluencies and repetition of words and syllables, there are certain other signs that a person who stammers will exhibit. The person might...
- ...have a problem starting a sentence.
- ...hesitate to speak.
- ...switch difficult words with easier ones in order to prevent embarrassment (circumlocution).
- ...seem out of breath.
- Tightening of the mouth
- Trembling of the lips
- Tightening of the jaw
- Rapid blinking of the eyes
Other than these facial expressions, a person's body language could also change and they could take on a very tensed demeanor. The person might show signs of being restless and shake his legs or tap his foot often.
What Causes it?
It is not necessary that a person who stammers will stammer or stutter every time he speaks. The stuttering most often comes in episodes. The patient might generally display perfectly normal speech techniques and then suddenly stammer in certain tense situations or when he is under pressure. It is this factor that makes it necessary to study the causes of the same.
Neurogenic factors (those that arise in the nervous system) are one of the main reasons responsible for speech problems to arise. This happens because there is a problem in the way that the brain handles speech. The areas which connect the listening of sound and then producing it as it is, are disrupted because the signals that run between the speech and brain nerves and muscles are disturbed. Thus there are bound to be obvious faults in the way the speech comes out. It has been seen that a child who stammers will usually have had someone in the family who stammers as well. While this condition is more common in children, it can also come about in adults post a brain injury or stroke.
Stuttering comes about in many children when they are in the developmental stages and are picking up vocabulary. Their skills aren't honed well enough to speak at the same rate in which their brain works, and therefore they end up stuttering. As they grow and develop these skills, the symptoms slowly fade on their own, till their speech is perfected. Children who have other speech disorders are also likely to stutter.
It is misconstrued that psychological reasons lead to speech impediments. The truth is that they do not lead to stammering but they could make it worse. These factors include low self-esteem, low confidence, high expectations from society, stress, performance anxiety, fast-paced lifestyles, comparisons with others, problems at home and the like. All these can aggravate the stammering situation and make it difficult to overcome it.
What are the Treatment Options?
It has been seen that instances of stammering that start off early on, (before the age of 3) usually do not last. If, however, a child seems to be having problems forming sentences, refrains from talking due to the same, or exhibits certain signs like tensing his face or clenching his jaw, and if the stuttering has persisted for more than 6 months, then it needs to be looked into. This problem is best tackled with the help of speech pathology in the early stages. It becomes more and more difficult to correct speech as age progresses.
A speech pathologist will carry forth certain detailed tests, along with interviews and observations to determine the causes and severity of the speech impediment. After this has been done, the treatment options become clearer.
These are some of the techniques and exercises that are used in the treatment process.
- Smooth and fluent speech is practiced by using articulation exercises that involve deliberately stretching the vowels and consonants and using small sentences. After enough practice, one moves on to longer and more difficult sentences until it becomes learned. Practice is needed so that there are no relapses. These activities have shown tremendous success.
- A therapy called the Block Modification Therapy is especially effective if the causes of stuttering are psychological. In this, the therapist will identify what causes anxiety (or any other psychological problem), followed by a number of exercises that will allow the patient to overcome the stutter.
- Regulating breathing with the help of some basic breathing techniques is undertaken along with exercises for the lips, jaw and tongue.
- Certain electronic fluency devices are brought into use for the treatment as well. In this, the person's voice is recorded in different scenarios and varied treatment options are thus created. These have shown mixed results.
- In some cases, anti-stuttering medications are also used. But these are not usually the first choice.
- There are several self-help and support groups that have been set up. These have professionals who help people overcome stuttering.