Stuttering (or stammering) is a developmental speech disorder, often emerging in early childhood, that is characterized by repetitions (e.g., m-m-mom), prolongations (e.g., m__om), and/or stoppages of sounds (e.g., b*oy). In the USA alone, there are approximately 3.2 million people who stutter (1% of the population) and an additional 13 million have stuttered at some point in their lives. Some famous people who stutter include Joe Biden (US Vice-President), Marilyn Monroe (actress), Mel Tillis (country singer), and Drew Lynch (comedian – 2015 America’s Got Talent).
Although stuttering continues to gain national and international attention through TV talk shows, movies and talent shows, a number of myths and erroneous beliefs still surround it. For instance, it is a myth that a child starts stuttering because he/she imitates a relative or friend/classmate who stutters. The fact is that stuttering is not contagious, nor is it a learned behavior. We now know that stuttering is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a strong genetic influence. It is also a myth that parents of young children who stutter should “wait and see” and seek professional advice from a certified speech-language pathologist only after their child has stuttered for a long time (e.g., 2 years). The fact is that stuttering persists (without intervention) in more than 20% of young children who stutter, on average. Therefore, it is recommended that parents seek professional advice early on. Finally, it is also a myth that it helps the child to “take a deep breath” or “think before talking.” The fact is that this and similar direct advice (e.g., “slow down”) might make some children more self-conscious and, as a result, make their stuttering worse. Rather, it is recommended that parents listen to their children patiently and allow ample time for them to complete their sentence.
While we now know a lot more about stuttering than we did 80 years ago when the first studies in stuttering were conducted, there is still much to be learned. If your child has a known or suspected stuttering problem and is between the ages of 3 and 12 years, you can help us by participating in a research study conducted by the Indiana University Speech Disfluency Laboratory (http://www.iuspeechdisfluency.org/). If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr. Julie D. Anderson via e-mail at [email protected] or phone at (812) 856-1240. You can also visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/iuspeechdisfluency.