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The Science of Stuttering
The latest blockbuster film about King George VI, The King’s Speech, is a modern popular example of someone struggling with a stutter. As portrayed in the film it is a psychological derived problem that King George suffered from, not a physical condition. Interestingly for a film with no action, violence or nudity it has proven to be a huge success, particularly with young audiences.
A holistic examination of the condition of stuttering, particularly in young children, lends itself naturally to the science of psychology rather than biology. Stuttering is increasingly becoming recognised not as an isolated condition specific to those with an unfortunate genetic heritage but a deep psychological response to an increasingly alienated world. Stuttering affects 68 million people worldwide, with children between 3 and 8 years of age accounting for over 80% of these people. A child is incredibly sensitive and receptive to social stimulus, particularly from birth and during infancy. It is during this time as the child is adjusting to modern human life that it will often encounter an environment in which it is overwhelmed or variously adjusting to inconsistencies or abnormalities to what it expects. It is this avalanche of learning and stimulus and adjusting that is occurring that can lead to a certain level of internally generated subconscious insecurity and anxiety. This self-doubt that develops can manifest in many physical forms, with the main verbal expression being to stutter when attempting to begin speaking.
Stuttering is essentially a verbal expression of a child’s insecure and uncertain reaction to an overwhelming world. Science has spent years and years and endless reports and research on the complex mechanism of brain function and/or the physiology of jaw and facial muscles but it is more biopsychosocial approach that provides the most insight. Despite the obvious logic that there are psychological elements that contribute to stuttering in children it doesn’t stop a wave of scientific studies somehow concluding that “there is no reason to believe that emotional trauma causes stuttering.” These studies seem to focus too much on the physiological symptoms of stuttering and how to address them rather than going to the root cause of the problem which is why do the children contort and retard their normal speech in the first place. It’s no good focusing on the external effects without looking at what’s causing them (i.e. the internal/psychological state of the child).
Once a child starts to stutter, it is a compounding situation as the child begins to feel the anxiety due to failure of speech and deepening sense of frustration and depression may develop as a result. However, over time as the child matures, the stutter inevitably disappears with recent scientific studies showing that between 75% and 80% of all children who begin stuttering will stop within 12 to 24 months without speech therapy.