Stammering is also referred to as stuttering, the latter being the word used more in North America and Australia. It can affect many children as well as adults. Ed Sheeran mentioned on Desert island Discs that he had suffered from it as a child and his attempts to copy rap music really helped. But what is it and how can it be treated?
Stammering is when you repeat sounds or syllables, you make sounds longer or a word simply will not come out at all. It can vary from person to person and people often report that there can be periods when the stammering goes away. Many people may be able to hide their stammering by avoiding certain words, so you may not even be aware that they stammer.
This is the most common type of stammering and tends to occur early in childhood. Research suggests that 1 in 20 young children experience some kind of stammering. Around 4 in 5 children who stammer do grow out of it.
This is rarer and as the title suggests it occurs later on in older children or adults. This is usually as a result of a head injury, stroke, certain drugs or emotional trauma, in other words there would be a trigger for the condition. About 1% of the adult population stammers, 80% of adults who stammer are men. Due to the rarity of this type of stammering we will focus more on developmental stammering.
We aren’t entirely sure what causes some children to stammer and others to not. What we do know if that for speech to develop properly then the different areas of the brain need to be working properly and there needs to be the right communication between the brain and the muscles responsible for breathing and speaking. Problems like stammering can occur if this system doesn’t come together as it should so essentially there are problems with the wiring of the brain. Some children do grow out of stammering as their brains develop and start to control the process of speech more effectively.
Another interesting fact is that more boys than girls suffer from stammering which may be explained by how differently boys and girls develop. Another factor may be genes, as two in three people who stammer come from a family who have people who have stammered.
Many people think that stammering is a sign of lack of intelligence which is a complete myth. It is also assumed that people who stammer suffer from their nerves. Whilst it is true that stammering can, in some people, make them feel a little nervous people who stammer are not necessarily more nervous per se than others.
People are clearly different and will have different levels of stammering. For many people stammering creates a really serious communication issue. Not being able to communicate can affect self-esteem, confidence and many children who stammer report high levels of bullying.
A number of factors can affect how people stammer. This includes environmental factors i.e having to deliver a speech or talk at work although in some people this stress can actually improve fluency. There are linguistic factors, so stammering tends to happen at the start of a sentence. Physical factors can influence levels of stammering as well as psychological factors, so if you sense a negative reaction to your stammering the stammering can get worse.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech do seek help as soon as possible. You may be referred by your GP or health visitor to a speech therapist who will assess your child and discuss various treatments. If you want further information then do contact the British Stammering Association who can give you more help and advice.
There are a number of different treatments for stammering that include relaxing your child and reducing the anxiety that often makes stammering worse. There are also electronic devices that can help. It is important to note that there is no one cure that works for all.
We started this article looking at the use of singing and music in the treatment of stammering. What we do know is that music excites various parts of the brain including the auditory cortex and cerebrum. Singing provides increased phonation duration and shares auditory motor pathway with speech. A unique feature of music is its rhythm and for people who stammer this rhythm can be crucial in helping them control their stammering.