Mum..mummy! We wa.wa.wa..won the mmm..mmmatch!” Susan’s body tenses up whenever she hears her ten year-old son stuttering. Whenever Alvin gets stuck on a word, she gets desperate. Alvin’s younger brother speaks absolutely normally, and that makes Alvin’s situation ever more noticeable. Very often classmates tease him. Last year, he came home crying quite often. Interestingly, Alvin has no difficulty when he sings or recites from memory. But the problem comes when the teacher asks him to read aloud in the class. This also happens when he is very excited and angry. Like Alvin, many children face the speech problem. And like his mother, many mothers worry over their child’s stammering. But mere worry does not help. One has to understand the disorder before tackling it.
Stammering is predominantly a ‘male’ condition (80% of stammerers are male) and it usually affects the first-born male child. A significant majority of stammerers (65%) have a family history of the disorder. Nearly always, stammering starts before the child is five years of age. If left untreated, it peaks in severity around the age of ten to eighteen years and then begins to stabilize or fade away as the person grows older.
A stammerer knows precisely what he wants to say but cannot, for a moment, say it because of an involuntary repetition, prolongation or cessation of the speech sound. Research suggests that the disorder might be caused due to a ‘neurological mistiming’ during the act of speech which leaves the stammerer confused about when exactly to say the word he or she wants to say. Speaking is not merely the movement of the tongue but involves a fine coordination of both mental and physical processes. Like all other physical actions, the act of speech is the result of neuro-muscular coordination that involves the transmitting of electro-chemical messages from the brain to the appropriate muscle groups. Actually, all stammerers have periods of fluency when they are emotionally relaxed but revert back to diffluent speech under stress. Answering the roll call in a class, or speaking on the telephone, or talking to someone in authority, or speaking in a group, or attending a job interview are some pressure situations which might increase behavior.
What is exactly wrong?
Another interesting fact about stammering is that even those who stammer severely can sing fluently without any speech blocks. It is because when we sing a song, we know exactly when to say what. But in a conversation, people become disoriented and cannot maintain smooth forward flow of words in the form of sentences. Even as a child stammers, he builds an accumulated fear of stammering. With growing years, these fears keep snowballing until the child begins to experience tremendous frustration, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, and even guilt. He or she begins to recoil from speaking. He fears listeners. In the bargain, he also loses confidence. But, he does not know that except for the stammering, he is a normal human being. In fact, most stammerers are sensitive and intelligent people.
Speech is one of the strongest habits of our body. Naturally, stammered speech is also a habit. Stammering is not a disease and therefore, it cannot be treated through medicines. The stammering child or adult has to be helped to develop a new, more fluent manner of speech through specific speech fluency–building techniques. There is no other solution but just to unlearn and undo stammering.
A stutterer usually tries to hide his or her speech problem. This attempt at camouflage is counter-productive because it only acts as psychological ‘fuel’ for further speech-blocks. If the stammerer is open about his speech difficulty, he experiences lesser stress and is able to speak with greater control.
In the final analysis, stammering and stuttering can be overcome if the sufferer seeks scientific, professional guidance and is ready to work towards achieving speech fluency through regular practice of therapeutic techniques. It certainly cannot disappear by some magic pill. And as a parent, one has to realize this fact.