Stuttering Not An Oscar Performance for Sufferers
While people wonder if Michael Palin will win an Oscar for his performance of a stuttering King George VI of Britain, the speech disorder remains a difficult challenge for millions of children and adults in the United States.
Stuttering affects males more than females
Stuttering is a speech disorder that is characterized by involuntary repetitive, interrupted, or prolonged sounds, syllables, and words that can cause mild to severe problems with the flow of speech. This speech disorder typically first appears in children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Overall, 80 percent of people who stutter are males.
According to The Stuttering Foundation, about 5 percent of all children experience stuttering that lasts less than one year, and most recover by late childhood. About one percent of children, however, continue to stutter, which is also the average percentage of the entire population that has the speech disorder. More than 3 million Americans and 68 million people worldwide stutter.
Genetic factors appear to play a major role in stuttering. About 60 percent of people with the speech disorder have a family member with the same condition.
Recent research has uncovered some genetic factors that can be implicated in this speech disorder. One study, for example, noted that stuttering appears to be associated with markers on chromosome 12.
In research results published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2010, investigators reported on specific gene mutations associated with stuttering. The researchers found mutations in three genes (GNPTAB, GNPTG, and NAGPA) in individuals who stuttered but not in controls with normal speech. About 9 percent of individuals who stutter have one of these gene mutations.
In the study, the investigators found that a mutation of the GNPTAB gene occurred in about 10 percent of members of a large Pakistani family who were affected, but in none of 552 chromosomes from unaffected, unrelated North American control subjects. Mutations of the other two genes also were found only in people who stuttered.
Stuttering may also be caused by early childhood developmental delays or language/speech problems, problems with speech and language processing, and family dynamics (e.g., chronic high stress in the home, high expectations of children).
Although there is no cure for stuttering, mild cases can often be eliminated if treatment begins before age 4 years. Early treatment generally focuses on preventing or eliminating stuttering behaviors and requires parental involvement. The chances of stopping stuttering decrease if the speech problems persist beyond eight years of age.
While stuttering may be a challenge, it has affected many well-known and successful individuals. Some of them include Winston Churchill, James Earl Jones, Marilyn Monroe, Carly Simon, John Stossel, John Updike, and the subject of the Oscar nominations, King George VI.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s speech and whether he or she has a stuttering problem can get more information from The Stuttering Foundation. An overview of stuttering published in American Family Physician also provides important information for parents, including how to differentiate between normal speech dysfluency and stuttering, and information on the types of therapy available.
Kang C et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 362:677-85
The Stuttering Foundation