03 Aug Stuttering: Information You Need to Know
An interesting article in the most recent Monitor on Psychology (July/August 2014) highlighted a problem which we may all be familiar with. The problem, stuttering, is an issue that has likely surfaced for many people. In fact, the article indicates that 3 million people in the U.S. and 1 percent of the world’s population suffer from stuttering and the consequences of dysfluency. The article reported that it is most common in males (four times more likely than females) and that many children who begin stuttering recover naturally and on their own before 8 years old. However, for children who continue to stutter beyond 8 years old these issus can continue through adolescence, young adulthood and beyond unless they get treatment.
Like many other medical and psychiatric issues, the reason for stuttering is unknown. Nevertheless, there seems to be a strong genetic component, meaning that it is passed along from parents to children and so on. Similar to other psychological issues, we only consider confirming a diagnosis of stuttering (or as it is now called, childhood-onset fluency disorder) if the issue (stuttering) interferes with academic or occupational achievement and in this case, social communications. Researchers and clinicians are now, more than ever, recognizing that anxiety is closely tied with stuttering. The article refers to two studies which indicate that those who stutter have higher rates of anxiety and the anxiety is often related to social situations. Additionally, we know that anxiety can bring about the urge to avoid whatever it is that makes you worry. In this case, that may be situations in which you need to speak in front of others.
The research on the most effective treatment for stuttering varies. Nevertheless, it is clear that a mixture of speech therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy can be extremely helpful. Speech therapy can offer tools that can focus on the dysfleuncy. Examples include altering aspects of their stuttering when the one begins to stutter.
Meanwhile Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can address issues related to anxiety. This can include better understanding and identifying thoughts and beliefs which are not supported by evidence and therefore maladaptive. Disposing of these unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more adaptive and accurate thoughts is a key component to CBT. Additionally, the behavioral piece can encourage people to face their fears (e.g. in social situations) and also engage in activities which where they can practice the tools learned in their speech therapy. Finally, there are numerous national and local foundations as well as support groups where people should be encouraged to research and even join or attend.
In conclusion, stuttering is a common problem that is present in many children and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. A speech and language therapist should be sought out and tools and exercises can be learned, practiced and generalized to reduce the speech issues. As we know, stuttering has close ties with anxiety, and CBT (an effective treatment for anxiety as well as a number of other psychiatric issues) can be utilized to help reduce ongoing anxiety. It is imperative that the speech and language therapist and mental health provider work together to reduce this issue and help people reduce dysfluency and anxiety.
Cohen, J. (2014, July/August). From stuttering to fluency: Psychologists are helping people who stutter gain mastery over their symptoms and associated anxiety. Monitor on Psychology, 45 (7), 50‐54.