The exact cause of stuttering is not known, but researchers believe that persistent stuttering development falls into a few categories.
Genetics: Stuttering tends to run in families and it is thought that it may be inherited. Researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have identified four different genes in which mutations are associated with stuttering.1
Developmental: Stuttering that develops in childhood may stem from a child's difficulty in matching motor abilities to the timing of speech expression.
Medical conditions: Damage to the parts of the brain responsible for speech from strokes, head trauma or other brain injuries can cause stuttering.
Mental health: In rare cases, an emotional trauma can lead to stuttering.
There is no cure for stuttering, though there are different methods that may treat stuttering based on age and the intended goals. Working with a skilled speech-language pathologist (also known as a speech therapist) is the best way to decide upon a treatment option for you or the person you want to help.
How to find a speech therapist
1) Go to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and use their ASHA ProFind tool to find a therapist.
2) Speech Buddies is a Brooklyn, New York-based online marketplace to find in-home, office or virtual appointments with a speech therapist.
3) Each state has an early intervention program for children from birth to three years old. Go to the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center to look up your state.
The methods a speech therapist uses may be different for children than adults.
While some children do outgrow stuttering, support to parents and the children is still needed.
Parents can provide support to their children. They can give the children gentle guidance and not react negatively when they stutter. Parents should resist the impulse to finish their children's sentences for them. They can praise the child who is able to speak without stuttering and be open to discussing stuttering with the child.
There is also a technique called the Lidcombe Program, which was developed in Australia for children ages two to six to help them shape their verbal fluency.
According to the Mayo Clinic, controlling fluency is part of speech therapy treatment that is used for both children and adults who stutter.
Controlled fluency teaches the stutterer to slow down their speech and to pay attention to those situations when they are more likely to stutter. It also involves relaxing the muscles of the lips, jaw and tongue as well as relaxing one’s breathing and the vocal fold area in the throat.
“Some studies have shown that this treatment worked well for many stammerers with about 70% of participants claiming satisfactory fluency 12-24 months after treatment.”5
Behavorial modification helps people to work on their concerns and to avoid overthinking about those situations that make stuttering worse. They work on dealing with their fears and their stress regarding stuttering. Behavior modification can assist people in improving their self-esteem.
There are now electronic devices that can be used to give the speaker feedback on their speech. The devices can distort the stutterer’s voice unless they speak slowly. Other electronic tools can mimic one’s speech so it sounds like the person is talking in unison with another person.
Drugs are not used much to treat stuttering due to side effects and mixed results in their ability to help stutterers.
Both the stutterer and their families need support to manage this condition. Aside from working on being patient and calm when the stutterer is trying to speak, friends and family can contact support groups.
Such support groups include the National Stuttering Association at 800-WeStutter (800-937-8888) and The Stuttering Foundation. The Stuttering Foundation has a resource section with books, videos, newsletters, materials translated into other languages and more.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in women’s health care and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Stuttering. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at NIH.gov. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
2) Where to Turn: 8 Tips for Finding a Speech Therapist in Your Area. Speech Buddy.com. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
3) Stuttering. Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
4) Stammer/Stutter. Patient Info.Retrieved October 9, 2016.
5) Treatments for Adult Stuttering and stammering (Dysfluency). Icommunicate speech & communication.com. Retrieved October 9, 2016.