Freedom of speech is ubiquitous to every human being however some are unable to express themselves clearly. The free flow of thought becomes limited when an individual stutter. Sometimes, it may even affect their quality of life.
The question we ask is, can this be prevented? Is it caused by stress as we have been made to believe? Let’s delve into it!
Stuttering also termed stammering or disfluent speech is a speech disorder.
Individuals who possess this disorder firstly repeat parts of their words, sounds and syllables which eventually end in interruptions in speech. Some may pause and begin to blink their eyes rapidly or their lips can begin to shake and tremble. They end up stretching and prolonging a sound for a long time which is uncomfortable for them. Other times, they have a word but find it difficult to bring it out. They know exactly what they want to say but they have difficulty in expressing their free flow of thought. They may end up saying another word which they are comfortable with to relieve their tension.
· Part- word repetition – she c-c-called for you.
· Prolonged-sound – fffffffaith is here.
· Pause/block- Edward went (pause) shopping.
Normal production of speech
Speech is one way to communicate. We are born without the knowledge of communication. We learn to communicate as we grow. It involves a combination of systems and organs.
Speech is a coordinated muscle movement that is controlled by the brain and monitored through our sense of hearing and touch. These muscle movements involve the breathing of air which passes through the larynx (voice box) moves through the throat, palate, tongue and lips in an articulated form.
Any discontinuity within these processes or damage to the most important organ which controls speech, the brain may cause stuttering.
Types of stuttering
1. Developmental stuttering
This occurs in young children between the ages of 2 and 5 years while they are still learning how to talk and communicate. It is the most common type of stammering. For some unknown reasons, it occurs in males more than females even though it is not a sex-linked character. Some scientists and clinicians suggest that it is common in children as their brain is now developing. Hence, they are unable to express themselves fully due to the inabilities of the brain. Fortunately, about 75% of children who stammer lose it when they grow up. There is growing evidence to suggest that, there are differences in the physiology of stutterers and non-stutterers.
2. Neurogenic stuttering
Since the brain is the primary organ that controls speech, any injury to the brain region that controls speech may cause stuttering. For example
· Traumatic brain injury
· Degenerative brain diseases. E.g., Alzheimer’s disease
3. Psychogenic stuttering
It was first believed that stress or emotional trauma was the cause of stammering. There has been a significant amount of research to disprove this belief. Stress can worsen the situation especially during public speaking or a presentation but it does not cause stammering that is permanent.
Stuttering though most common in children, affects people of all ages. Stuttering affects about 1% of the global population. It has been asserted that about 5 to 10% of all children will stutter in some period in their life, lasting from a few weeks to several years.
Moreover, boys are 2 to 3 times more likely to stutter than girls and as they age, the difference increase even further. However, most children outgrow stuttering.
Causes of stuttering
There is growing evidence to suggest that, stuttering can result from inherited abnormalities. There is ongoing research to support this claim, as it has been observed that, stuttering tend to run in families.
· Abnormalities in motor control and brain
Some evidence indicates that abnormalities in speech motor control, such as timing, sensory and motor coordination may be involved. Since the brain controls these activities, it is clear that abnormalities to the brain would result in stuttering.
As made mentioned, emotional trauma does not cause stuttering. One may have speech dysfluency when the individual is pressured or tensed but it is not the same as stutter which is a speech disorder.
· Family members who stutter - individuals are more likely to stutter if any of their relatives have such conditions. This is because the abnormal gene may be inherited.
· Delayed childhood development- children who undergo developmental delays may be more likely to stutter. Thus, the environment for raising a child must be favourable to prevent such condition.
· Stress – even though stress does not cause stuttering, it will worsen the condition for persons who already stutter.
Individuals who stutter mostly have low self-esteem. It is embarrassing for them to speak in public places, do a presentation and sometimes even talk to people, ultimately affecting their way of life. Generally, they avoid social gatherings and people. They are teased or bullied in school and work environments. Stuttering is a speech disorder, the best we can offer as individuals is to be patient with them.
The type of treatment a person receives depends on the existing condition, age, communication goals and other factors. To determine your level of stuttering, one has to meet a doctor.
Stuttering as mentioned is common among children between 2 to 5 years. They eventually outgrow it. However, if you realize that your child has passed a certain stage and is still finding it difficult to speak, you have to send him to the hospital.
Symptoms that call for hospital visitation include;
I. Repetition of some parts of words, sounds and syllables.
II. Prolongation of sounds
III. Pause in speech
IV. Addition of interjections such as “um”, “like”
V. Tremors of the lips
VI. Rapid eye blinks
VII. Facial tics
Although there is currently no cure for stuttering, there are a variety of treatments available. The common approach used is speech therapy. Some professionals have been trained to care for such individuals. Due to ongoing research, some drugs are being used to treat stuttering. The best way to treat stuttering is to provide a relaxed home environment, especially for children to speak. Also, we should be patient and attentive to such individuals.
Stuttering is a speech disorder that can affect our way of life. It is sometimes inevitable especially among certain families but it can be managed. Rather than bullying, such individuals need our patience and care. Talk to your doctor today if you suspect having this condition!
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