Category Archives: Stuttering
Stuttering (/ˈstʌtərɪŋ/; alalia syllabaris), also known as stammering (/ˈstæmərɪŋ/; alalia literalis or anarthria literalis), is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases, and involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the stutterer is unable to produce sounds. The term stuttering is most commonly associated with involuntary sound repetition, but it also encompasses the abnormal hesitation or pausing before speech, referred to by stutterers as blocks, and the prolongation of certain sounds, usually vowels and semivowels. For many stutters repetition is the primary problem and blocks and prolongations are learned mechanisms to mask repetition, as the fear of repetitive speaking in public is often the main cause of psychological unease. The term “stuttering”, as popularly used, covers a wide spectrum of severity: it may encompass individuals with barely perceptible impediments, for whom the disorder is largely cosmetic, as well as others with extremely severe symptoms, for whom the problem can effectively prevent most oral communication. The impact of stuttering on a person’s functioning and emotional state can be severe. Much of this goes unnoticed by the speaker, and may include fears of having to enunciate specific vowels or consonants, fears of being caught stuttering in social situations, self-imposed isolation, anxiety, stress, shame, or a feeling of “loss of control” during speech. Stuttering is sometimes popularly associated with anxiety but there is actually no such correlation (though as mentioned social anxiety may actually develop in individuals as a result of their stuttering). Despite popular perceptions to the contrary, stuttering is not reflective of intelligence.
Stuttering is generally not a problem with the physical production of speech sounds or putting thoughts into words. Acute nervousness and stress can trigger stuttering in persons predisposed to it, and living with a highly stigmatized disability can result in anxiety and high allostatic stress load (i.e., chronic nervousness and stress) that reduce the amount of acute stress necessary to trigger stuttering in any given person who stutters, exacerbating the problem in the manner of a positive feedback system; the name ‘Stuttered Speech Syndrome’ has been proposed for this condition. Neither acute nor chronic stress, however, itself creates any predisposition to stuttering.
The disorder is also variable, which means that in certain situations, such as talking on the telephone, the stuttering might be more severe or less, depending on the anxiety level connected with that activity. Although the exact etiology of stuttering is unknown, both genetics and neurophysiology are thought to contribute. There are many treatments and speech therapy techniques available that may help increase fluency in some stutterers to the point where an untrained ear cannot identify a problem; however, there is essentially no “cure” for the disorder at present, although many treatments are available.
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