More than three million people in the United States share the common experience of stuttering, a condition that disrupts the production of speech sounds (also known as “disfluencies”), according to the National Stuttering Association (NSA). Oftentimes developed during childhood, stuttering now affects more than 70 million people worldwide. Since 1998, October 22 has been regarded as “International Stuttering Awareness Day,” an opportunity for organizations such as NSA and the Stuttering Foundation to advocate for greater awareness around the stigmas and scientific progress that surround the fluency disorder.
In August, we published a news story, “Seeking Clues to Stuttering Deep Within the Brain,” which highlights the latest breakthroughs scientists have made with the help of neuroimaging technology. In the article, neuroscientist Soo-Eun Chang says:
Because very little was known about this complex disorder, there were wild theories…[Nowadays] there’s consensus among many researchers that stuttering is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a psychiatric or emotional issue. With neuroimaging, we’ve just begun to find subtle differences in brain structure and function in those who stutter.
While neuroscientists have been exploring the cognitive differences between those who stutter and those who don’t for the past two decades, most of that research has involved adults. As the University of Michigan’s director of the speech neurophysiology lab, Chang has been working with colleagues to collect data on more than 100 children under the age of 13 to investigate brain differences between stutterers and non-stutterers. Chang followed the young subjects for four years, repeating MRIs as well as cognitive, motor, and speech tests. Her lab is currently working on their findings, so new developments are underway.
Signs of stuttering often involve a repetition of words, or parts of words, as well as prolongations, and abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. According to the Stuttering Foundation, “there may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak.” Their website offers a list of frequently asked questions to help inform the public about effective treatments, proper care for children who stutter, and developmental factors that most likely contribute to the disorder. In addition, speech-language pathologists from around the world offered their advice to the Stuttering Foundation as a way of sharing insight into their experiences with the disorder.
There is no instant cure for stuttering, but working with speech therapists and specialists has been proven to lead to significant progress toward fluency. To learn more about the latest scientific studies regarding stuttering, read this Dana Foundation article.
– Seimi Rurup