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Stammering

by Sarah Horrocks Published on 19 January 2009

Stammering or stuttering is a complex problem that affects around 1% of the population and is characterised by the repetition of sounds, the lengthening of syllables and other speech problems. However, it cannot be summarised as simply as that: it can involve deeper issues of speech, behaviour and communication.

What is a stammer?

Stammering is defined as words which ‘overlap,’ get stuck then expulsed, with syllables repeated. There are different types of stammering:
- Intermittent stuttering disappears during singing, for example, or when reciting something by heart.
- Classic stammering (jerky repetition of a syllable)
- Tonic stammering is the inability to say certain words at a certain moment.

Who does it affect?

Stammering usually starts in childhood between the ages of 3 and 7. It naturally disappears in 40 to 80% of cases during adolescence. In adults it is usually a result of an accident or a psychological problem. Stammering affects 3 men to 1 woman. Having a parent who stammers multiples a child's chance of stammering by 3.

Factors in stammering

Although physiologically, stammering is tension of the vocal cords that could have a neuromuscular origin, the factors also appear psychological. Stammering often begins following a disturbing event in a child's life such as moving home, the arrival of a little brother or sister or family problems. High educational demands and a stressful climate can also induce stammering in children. In adults, stammering appears sometimes after trauma, grief or an event that causes deep internal reflection.

Treatment

Children stammer frequently between the ages of 2 and 3 when they are learning to speak, and stops naturally later. However, it is important to contact a speech therapist as soon as possible if the stammer seems like it is not going away, as it can lead to speech delays and social withdrawal. Sometimes simply easing off educational demands, or creating a more serene family environment for a child can be enough to stop a stammer. The way that parents speak is also important: slower speech can make the child feel better learning. Parents and family should react calmly to a child’s stammer so as not to make the child feel they have a problem. Treatment with a speech therapist can work on breathing and controlling the speed of speech with exercises to do at home. The family's role is fundamental to help and support the child with exercises, without applying pressure. In adults, psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy can help.

by Sarah Horrocks

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