What is International Stuttering Awareness Day 2022?

stuttering

International Stuttering Awareness Day is observed every year on the 22nd of October. The day aims to bring attention to the millions of people around the world who stutter and address the numerous myths around stuttering. Hope and empowerment for children and adults who stutter comes from increased education, awareness, research, and advocacy.

Stuttering, sometimes known as stammering, is a speech disorder affecting around 1% of the global population – that is around 70 million people worldwide!

We will all likely know, work with, or encounter a person who stutters at some point in our lives. Yet, despite the prevalence of stuttering, there is not only a limited knowledge of the speech disorder, but also a lack of understanding of its wider social implications.

We have broken down the basics so that we can all be more informed and empathetic to the causes and social stigmas of stuttering.

What is stuttering?

It is a common speech disorder characterised by frequent interruptions to a person’s flow of speech that can make verbal communication more difficult. These interruptions are known as disfluencies and can take various forms. The most common disfluencies associated with stuttering include:

  • Sound repetition – ‘Let’s ride in the c-c-c-car.’
  • Sound prolongation – ‘Wwwhere is the ball.’
  • Silent blocks – ‘I want a (pause) ice cream.’

Physical behaviours such as twitching, head nodding, and blinking often accompany the condition. These actions are sometimes used as techniques to reduce and prevent stuttering.

There are many different speech patterns, and they can range in severity from mild to severe. Both the pattern and the severity, however, are not fixed from person to person and can vary from day-to-day depending on the speaking situation.

What causes stuttering?

The question of what causes the condition has no conclusive answer. Despite the widespread belief that stuttering is caused by emotional and situational factors, most experts now believe that underlying variations in brain activity influence speech production.

According to findings from brain imaging studies, adults who stutter have more activity in the right hemisphere of the brain than in the left hemisphere, which is responsible for speech.

There is evidence to suggest that it may also be hereditary, as children who stutter often have relatives who stutter. That being said, a specific gene responsible for stuttering has not been identified.

The consensus is that it is a neurological and physiological condition, not a psychological one.

How common is stuttering?

It is estimated that stuttering affects up to 1% of the population worldwide. This means that it affects around 70 million people.

The condition usually presents for the first time in childhood between the ages of 2 to 5 and it is believed to affect around 5% of all children. This mainly occurs when children know what they want to say, but have not developed the necessary motor pathways to express themselves verbally. However, over 80% of children who develop a stutter ultimately stop and speak completely fluently as adults.

Figures also indicate that stuttering is anywhere between 3 and 4 times more common in men than in women.

What environmental factors can impact stuttering?

When children start to become aware of their speech, they often start to develop negative thoughts about the condition that carry through to adulthood. People who stutter often report feelings of anxiety and embarrassment when speaking to others based on past experiences of ridicule, impatience, and bullying. These emotions can lead to an increase in tension in the muscles responsible for speech, which can further impact their ability to communicate.

Many people who stutter notice that tiredness, stress, and time constraints impact the severity and frequency of speech disruptions.

People who stutter sometimes feel compelled to hide their stuttering in situations where they believe their capabilities and intellect may be unfairly judged because of the condition. A job interview, for instance, can be extremely stressful and increase stuttering significantly. Such environmental triggers must be taken into consideration, and any increased stuttering must not be taken as an indication of how a person will speak or perform on the job.

Is there any stuttering treatment available?

Despite recent scientific advances, there is no universal research-backed treatment for stuttering. It is not only a mistake to view any singular treatment as a one-size-fits-all cure, but also unrealistic to expect it to make a person’s stutter disappear completely.

For example, some people may find speech therapy useful, while others may find that it has a limited impact and prefer cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

Other people find that feedback devices, fitted inside or around the ear like a hearing aid, can help to improve the overall fluency of their speech.

The truth is that there is no therapy, medication, or device that is helpful to all people who stutter at any given time. The primary goal of any treatment is to help people overcome negative emotions, anxiety, and stress related to speaking and participating in activities. It is also important to recognise that a person’s objectives, feelings, and attitudes toward their stuttering will influence the success of any given treatment.

What are some common myths about stuttering?

‘People stutter because they are shy and anxious’

Fluent speakers can sometimes become disfluent or stutter when they feel anxious. This creates the assumption that people who stutter do so because they too are anxious and nervous. People who stutter may feel anxious because of their stuttering, but anxiety is not the cause.

‘Stuttering is caused by trauma’

There has been speculation that a traumatic incident can trigger stuttering in a child that is already prone to it, but most scientists agree that this is not the main cause of stuttering.

‘Stuttering is psychological’

It is usually accompanied by emotional factors, but it is not a psychological condition at its core. Counselling is, however, a common component of a person who stutters’ life to help them address any attitudes and fears they may have about speaking.

‘People who stutter are not intelligent’

People who stutter refute this every day and are successful in a whole host of industries. There are countless scientists, teachers, professors, doctors, and authors who stutter.

‘Stuttering is caused by bad parenting’

It is not caused by stress, but stress caused by a child’s environment can negatively impact their fluency of speech and lead to increased stuttering.

‘Children who stutter are copying a parent or relative’

Stuttering has been found to run in families. It is possible that children who stutter may have a parent or close relative who also stutters. This is the result of shared genes and not imitation.

How can we support people who stutter?

Listening

Listen and pay attention to a person who stutters in the same way you would a person who does not.  Pay attention to what a person is saying, not how they are saying it.

Patience

Despite having good intentions, avoid finishing sentences or filling in words when a person who stutters is speaking as it can feel degrading and insulting.

Speak consciously

Avoid using phrases such as ‘take a breath,’ ‘slow down,’ and ‘relax.’ This may feel well-meaning, but it can come across as patronising.

Kindness

Above all, be kind and compassionate. A little bit of patience and sensitivity around people who stutter can help them feel more at ease and less self-conscious about speaking to other people, which can improve their overall quality of life.

 

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