Why Do People Stutter? An Insight into This Highly Misunderstood Speech Problem

Stuttering is a condition that happens when an individual struggles to speak clearly. Their brain has no issue forming words; the individual just has issues pronouncing them. This condition can also be called stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder. Individuals who experience stuttering are classified as having a speech disorder.

Doctors and researchers have studied this issue for years, but there is no conclusive answer to the question of why do people stutter. They have developed several theories and devised several helpful treatments for the condition. However, the definitive cause of the issue hasn’t been nailed as of yet.

Keep reading to learn more about stuttering and effective treatment strategies.

What Is Stuttering?

Stuttering is a condition in which an individual has difficulties speaking fluently. The issue does not lie with the ability of one’s brain to form speech. The problem is that when the individual start talking, they find it difficult to speak the words clearly. Sometimes the person can’t make any sound at all when they attempt to speak. This event is called blocking.

Stuttering is somewhat common in children. As children are learning to speak, some may exhibit the classic symptoms that are recognized as stuttering. Most children grow out of their stutters as their ability to speak and form sentences improves.

Here are some basic facts about stuttering that you might find helpful:

  • Stuttering is common in children and most of them naturally grow out of it.
  • According to NIDCD, stuttering affects between 5 and 10% of kids, and about 1 in 4 of them will continue to stutter into adulthood.
  • There are no known causes of stuttering outside of head trauma, only several theories and precursors of the condition.
  • Stuttering is more common in boys than in girls.

What Are the Symptoms of Stuttering?

A stutter or stammer can present itself in a few different ways. When you think of someone who stutters, the image of someone being stuck on a word comes to mind. However, other symptoms also indicate stuttering.

  • Issues with starting certain words, as well as phrases and sentences.
  • The person might hesitate to utter specific sounds.
  • They might also repeat the same word, sound, or syllable of a word.
  • The person may speak in rapid spurts.
  • Certain sounds may be dragged out or prolonged.
  • While speaking, the person may blink rapidly, clench their face, jaw, upper body, experience trembling of the lips, or tap their foot

As has been mentioned, stuttering is common in children. While it is learning to speak, a child could stutter as it learns new words and sounds. Most children stop stuttering as they become more adjusted to speaking those particular words or sounds. For a child that continues to stutter over an extended period, some doctors say six months, a visit to a speech & language pathologist would be the next step.

How to Get an Official Diagnosis

An official diagnosis of stuttering can only be made by a speech & language pathologist. At an appointment with your specialist, they will conduct a few different evaluations. They will need to know how often the stammer occurs and if it is tied to a specific trigger. They will also take a look at the patient’s speech & language skills and also how the individual copes when they stutter.

Age plays an important role in what types of evaluations and tests will be conducted. The older a child is, the higher the odds are that the stutter could be a lifelong condition. They will also want to see if and how the stutter impacts the child’s daily activities and interactions.

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no clear answer to the question why do people stutter. However, multiple factors can play a role in how the condition manifests. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common.

  • Age – When children are learning how to speak, a stutter can appear. This is common and can go away as a child becomes more accustomed to speaking and creating words and connecting them into sentences. Children under 3-1/2 years are the most likely to see the stutter disappear.
  • Neurological factors – Things like brain tumors, head trauma, or even meningitis can trigger a stutter.
  • Sex – Boys are more likely to stutter than girls.
  • Family History – While the “stuttering gene” hasn’t been found, it is common to see this condition run in families. If a child has a close relative that stutters, they themselves are more likely to develop the condition.

Long ago, psychological issues such as anxiety and stress were thought to cause stutter. Doctors now know that the opposite is true and having a stutter can actually trigger those conditions. However, it is not caused by them.

Treatment Strategies for Stuttering

Several treatment strategies can be applied at home without the assistance of an SLP. Patients with this condition should practice speaking slower and avoiding words that trigger the stutter. They are also advised to use relaxation and stress relieving techniques, so they do not become overly agitated or upset should the stutter emerge.

An SLP can also work with a patient if the condition warrants that. The SLP can work with them on slowing down their speech patterns and how to obtain fluidity in those patterns. Also, the SLP can recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for patients who experience a highly emotional reaction to their stuttering.

Taking Everything into Account

So, why do people stutter? As you can see, there is no one reason or cause. Unless the condition resulted suddenly from a head trauma, the doctors have no clear idea of what might have triggered the condition. Multiple theories have shown some areas of correlation with numerous potential causes, but there’s still no conclusive evidence.

While the definitive cause hasn’t still been discovered, it is clear that the condition is common in younger children as they learn how to speak. With most, it resolves itself within a couple of months or years. For those that continue to struggle with the condition, an SLP can help you with techniques to reduce your stutter and manage the stress and anxiety that can come with this condition.