All about stuttering: When a stammer is more than a slipup

By Shayna Brouker • Published: October 21st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Stuttering, stammering, dysfluency or stoppages in speech… whatever you call it, speech slipups are common in toddlers just trying their tongue at talking. But when does a cute characteristic become a disorder? A stumble in speech is a lot less endearing at age 16 when you’re trying to talk to your homeroom crush, or at 35 when you’re presenting a report to colleagues. October 22 is International Stuttering Awareness Day and marks the Stuttering Foundation’s mission to help concerned parents and stuttering adults alike.

Symptoms of stuttering include speech broken by repetitions, prolongations, and abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. Sometimes even unusual facial and body movements accompany the effort to speak. In severe cases, stammerers will go so far as to avoid certain difficult words or phrases, or talking altogether. Stammering is primarily caused by genetics, and approximately 60 percent of folks who do it have a family member with the same disorder. Recent research in neurophysiology shows that stutterers process language in different parts of the brain. And it affects four times as many boys as girls.

About five percent of children stutter for a period of six months or more, and while three-quarters eventually grow out of it, sometime the habit sticks. About 3 million Americans are stutterers.

Early prevention is key, however, and speech therapy can help. It’s also important for parents not to pressure their kids to be perfect — that can make it worse. Don’t react negatively when they do stutter, and encourage conversation in distraction-free settings, like at the dinner table. Speaking in a slow, relaxed manner can help them do the same.

In general, steer clear of making stammerers feel self-conscious in any way. A soft approach can go a long way in helping kids — and adults — stop stuttering.