“So kiss me again, ‘cause only you can stop this st-st-st-st-stuttering.”
If only life were as easy as this song – fortunately there is International Stuttering Awareness Day on Oct. 22 to further educate the public about stuttering.
Stuttering is “a speech disorder in which sounds, syllables, or words are repeated or prolonged, disrupting the normal flow of speech,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). This can obviously make communication difficult and affect that person’s everyday life.
More children than adult stutter, but one percent of adults have been found to stutter. This condition is found more often in men, with older boys having a greater prevalence of three to four times more than girls.
Jane Fraser, the president of Stuttering Foundation of America, which was founded in 1947, said her organization tries to increase awareness of stuttering. She said she thinks the awareness day started around 15 to 20 years ago and that it developed from the National Stuttering Awareness Week, which she helped push Congress to create in 1988.
This year, she said she’s focusing on “The King’s Speech,” which is a movie coming out soon about King George VI and how he overcame his stuttering problem.
She mentioned how difficult stuttering can be for women, since women who stutter aren’t as common.
“Three to four times as many men stutter as women, but that doesn’t make it any easier if you’re a women who stutters,” Fraser said. “In fact … it makes it harder because you’re sort of the oddball. It’s unexpected.”
She said in older days women might not have had as many opportunities to go out and talk, but that is a way to improve the condition.
Although in the past people thought stuttering was caused by psychological issues, that is not usually the case anymore, according to the NIDCD.
“We know that there is no correlation between mental illness and stuttering,” Fraser said.
Genetics and neurology play a part in the cause of stuttering.
She agreed that confidence and self-esteem can be negatively impacted by stuttering.
“Just imagine tomorrow you couldn’t talk,” Fraser said. “What would that do? … Just try it for five minutes … go to the grocery store and ask a question stuttering yourself and it gives you a real quick feel for how uncomfortable and how embarrassing this problem can be.”
Depression and anxiety could be tied to stuttering because of this embarrassment.
“There’s nothing abnormal in feeling a great deal of anxiety when you walk in a place and you’re not sure whether you can speak or not,” Fraser said.
Judith Eckardt, a board member of the International Stuttering Association and National Stuttering Association, also discussed the difficulties of being a woman who stutters.
“You don’t meet very many other women who stutter,” Eckardt said. “You’re kind of a rare bird.”
She said that there is some mental health link with stuttering, as one study showed that “children who stutter are often more sensitive children to begin with.”
“By sensitive I mean they are probably children who are more excitable, and we know that any kind of excitement, positive or negative, seems to increase stuttering,” Eckardt said.
She said to improve confidence and self-esteem, adults can get involved with the association and programs for adults who stutter.
Speech therapy also addresses these issues.
“With people who stutter, a good part of the therapy is working on achieving a positive attitude about speaking, about your speaking abilities, facing your fear and doing it anyways,” Eckardt said.
She said fear can be counterproductive and make it difficult for those who stutter to take their new skills outside of the therapy room.
Although there is no cure, there are several therapy options, according to the NIDCD.
Eckardt said psychological problems aren’t the cause of stuttering, but there can be an increase in anxiety because of stuttering.
“Often people become more anxious, like they know that they have to look for a job, they know that they have to present themselves, and they know that they have to cope with their stuttering problem,” she said.