Stuttering is a speech disorder or a speech impediment. Roughly three million people in the U.S. suffer from this order. It is characterized by repetitive sounds, words or syllables, prolonged sounds, word insertions and speech interruptions or blocks. Most individuals with this speech impediment, know what they want to say but fail to produce a normal speech pattern.
Often this speech impediment is accompanied by rapid eye blinking, tremulous lips or other struggle behaviors. Stuttering is an obstacle to normal communication. It affects the stutterer’s quality of life and relationships. A speech impediment can harm job prospects and opportunities. Speech impediments are more common in children developing language skills between two and six, but they will persist in about 5 to 10 percent of those children. Boys are three times likelier to suffer from this speech impediment. Some will continue to face this speech dysfluency right into adulthood.
Normal speech sounds are produced through a series of highly coordinated muscle movements. These involve muscle of respiration, phonation, and articulation. The brain controls all these muscles and their actions. They are checked and monitored by our sense of touch and hearing. A speech impediment means a disruption in this process either at the muscular, neural or cerebral level.
Causes of Stuttering and Speech Impediments
There are many things causes of stuttering, and we have examined some of them below.
Developmental causes of stuttering begin in young children while they are forming speech. At this time, they are still learning how to speak and acquiring language skills. It is the most common form of stuttering. This speech impediment is believed to stem from the complex interactions of many factors including language, muscle tone, and hearing. Brain imaging studies have consistently revealed differences in stutterers from their normal peers.
Developmental stuttering does run in families. According to new research genetic mutations contribute to stuttering. Researchers at the National Institute on Deafness, in 2010 identified mutations associated with speech impediments. These were found in 4 different genes. These findings suggest that the speech impediment might be an inherited metabolic disorder.
Neurogenic causes include a stroke, head injury, nerve injury, Alzheimer disease, and other forms of traumatic brain injury. In this form of speech impediment, the brain finds it difficult to coordinate various functions. Different regions of the brain are responsible for speech. A lack of coordination results in difficulty producing coherent, clear and fluent speech.
Psychogenic stuttering is a rare variety of dysfluency. Originally emotional trauma was believed to be the cause of all stuttering. Not anymore. It is different as it’s characterized by the quick repetition of the first sounds of a word. Psychogenic stuttering happens more often in adults with a history of psychiatric disorders after emotional trauma or a particularly stressful event.
Common Methods to Overcome Speech Problems
After identifying the cause, working through the speech impediment is crucial. Here are a few techniques that can help you. Remember one or more can be used in combination to help you overcome your stutter. You must practice these techniques consistently to see any positive change.
As in most stressful situations, it helps to breathe deep. Breathing deep helps your respiratory muscles to relax. For those with this speech impediment, always take a deep breath before you start speaking. Don’t concentrate on how not to stutter or feel anxious. Practice deep breathing exercises daily so that you’re accustomed to it. It will help you calm down. That will reduce any anxiety you have when you must speak. When you incorporate deep breathing, you also give yourself time to pause. That way your speech isn’t rushed but rather slow and more deliberate.
Pace yourself. Don’t feel pressured into speaking rapidly. When you speak slowly, it gives you time to compose the words in your mind. That reduces the speech impediment as you have the word before you say it out loud.
Try and break down the syllables too before you articulate. For example, let’s say you want to say the word, “enchanting,” try breaking it down. You could say, “en-chant-ing.” Start breaking down words and slowly work your way with bigger words. With time, you’ll find yourself speaking faster and more fluently. You can even practice with some tongue-twisting words and phrases.
Remember, speaking isn’t a race. Take your time to speak.
Identify trigger words
Certain words trigger this speech impediment. Identify what these trigger words are. Make a list of these words and find substitute words. Try to read aloud if you don’t know what your triggers words are. Read in private where you don’t feel self-conscious or pressured.
Pronounce each word, to increase the fluency of your speech and once you identify a trigger word break it down or substitute the word.
Follow the rhythm of your speech. You may not be aware, but we all speak with a certain rhythm. A certain cadence to our language. Have you heard yours? That is why people with a speech impediment don't mind singing instead. People find their stuttering disappear when they sing instead of speak.
The reason is unknown, but it may have something to do with the controlled rhythm of the song. Practice your own rhythm while you speak. Inflections and intonations can help. You can even consider speaking in a sing-song manner. One reason it may help is that as your focus on the maintenance of the rhythm you may forget about the words that are spoken.
Some people practice mindfulness and awareness to improve this speech impediment. Progressive relaxation techniques can be helpful. Often, this technique is recommended for those making presentations and involved in public speaking. However, you can try it for daily conversations.
Visualize your words before you pronounce them. It can prepare you and help you feel more in control of the conversation. That, in turn, will help you communicate better. In 2015, research showed that those who imagined interactions and rehearsed speeches improved fluency. After they imagined interactions, those people considered their performance much better than without any prior preparation.
Use gestures. Deliberate body movement can channel any nervousness or anxiety. It helps reduce the speech impediment. Often presenters and public speakers use controlled body movements or gestures to convey what they say. That could be hand gestures or even walk.
If the above techniques produce no improvement after weeks, then it may be time to consider a speech therapist.
After exhausting all the above options, if your speech impediment is still a problem, seek professional help. A Speech and Language Therapist will guide you. She or he will put you through a step by step program. This program will gradually teach you techniques to reduce the stutter. One of the techniques used in this process is the Block Modification Therapy. They will also teach you basic breathing exercises and may recommend electronic fluency devices.
You can achieve success through a combination of self-help and therapy. Seeking a self-help group can help people with a speech impediment to work on the challenge as a group.
People with speech impediments sometimes use an electronic device recommended by their speech therapists. This device is a speech monitor. Patients attach it to the outer ear. It can alter sound frequencies and delays feedback. With the delayed feedback, a person can regulate their speech.
Talk to your therapist if this is something that could help you. It might be expensive but if it can help with your speech impediment why not give it a try.
As of now, doctors have no medication to treat speech impediments. Current medications can reduce the anxiety and stress that surround speaking. With new research, however, there may be something in the works for the future.
Practice Makes Perfect
Whether you’re working with a speech therapist or doing it on your own, it requires practice. You have to perform them repeatedly. When you practice and rehearse, your stutter will remarkably improve. This is especially true, of trigger words, You can carry out compensatory strategies and completion of your thoughts only if you’ve practiced doing them on your own. Better still, practice in front of a mirror or with members of a support group. Working with a like-minded support group will help you speak without judgment. Self-help groups may provide suggestions and alternatives to words and phrases.
Practicing these techniques and using long-term strategies have helped many people overcome their speech impediment. Children go through this phase as part of their development process. Others overcome it during childhood. Some others may experience it only when under stress or pressure like a public speaking event.
Nevertheless, with practice and some patience, most people find they can overcome their speech impediment.
Have you tried any of these techniques? Share your success story with us.