International Stuttering Awareness Day is a campaign organised by three international organisations: the European League of Stuttering Associations, the International Fluency Association, and the International Stuttering Association. These three organisations meet annually for a three-week conference running from the first of October, and culminating with International Stuttering Awareness Day on 22nd October.
Last year, the theme of the campaign was ‘Pride. Respect. Dignity. Recognition’, for which we looked at the proper way to speak to someone with a stutter. This year, the theme is ‘A world that understands stuttering’, so we will be looking at what causes stuttering.
There are several different ways a person can develop a stutter, so let’s begin with the youngest. We know that stuttering has a tendency to run in families, which suggests that there is a genetic component to it. Evidence is increasingly suggesting that this can be attributed to disruptions in the various segments of the brain that control speech, such as timing or sensory & motor coordination.
Studies that monitored the brain waves of people who stutter found that in these cases, complexity and context played a huge role in prevalence of stuttering. When the message a person is trying to convey is particularly complicated (e.g. in a technical or philosophical manner), then the brain is more likely to engage areas not associated with speech, which can disrupt the speech brain waves. In terms of context, sentences that deal with surprising circumstances or words that wouldn’t normally go together can be more difficult to say. So sentences such as ‘I saw an elephant at the airport’ or ‘The fire is freezing’ can be more difficult to get out.
Childhood development also plays a role in developing a stutter for many people. Delayed development, which could be caused by other learning or emotional issues, makes people more likely to stutter as they grow. Similarly, significant stress or trauma, such as the loss of a parent, can disrupt a child’s speech development and lead to stuttering.
Stuttering does not always stem from the developmental stages. It can also occur later in life as a result of emotional trauma, such as the loss of a spouse or child. This is known as psychogenic stuttering, and should be distinguished from neurogenic stuttering, which stems from a ‘rewiring’ of the brain. This can be caused by more common health issues, such as strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and other brain-related disorders.
While most of us understand that stuttering is beyond a person’s control, that does not mean we understand the complexity and personal nature of the issue. We hope that this blog has helped to clear up any misconceptions around this and, in the theme of International Stuttering Awareness Day 2017, helped you to better understand stuttering.
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