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Stuttering (balbuties) – causes, therapy

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 211 views

Stuttering (balbuties) is a motor-related speech disorder in which the flow of speech is interrupted. In Germany, around 800,000 people (ie around one percent of the population) stutter. Among them are more boys and men than girls and women. The phenomenon often occurs for the first time in childhood, but then disappears again in adulthood in most of those affected. Read more about causes and treatment of stuttering!

quick overview

  • What is stuttering? Stuttering is a fluency disorder in which, for example, individual sounds or syllables are repeated (e.g. www-why?) or sounds are drawn out (e.g. let me iiiiiiin peace).
  • What causes stuttering? There are various factors, for example predisposition, traumatic experiences or disturbances in the processing of corresponding nerve signals.
  • What can be done against stuttering? Stuttering often goes away on its own in childhood. Otherwise, stuttering therapy can help. Since stuttering usually does not go away completely in adults, therapy is recommended to get the disorder under control – especially if the stuttering is a heavy burden for those affected.

What is stuttering?

When stuttering, the flow of speech comes to a standstill. The person who stutters repeatedly gets stuck on a word, which manifests itself in repeated sounds, stretching, or complete blockages. Although he knows exactly what he wants to say, he cannot pronounce the word at the moment.

Stuttering can manifest itself in different ways:

  • as a repetition of sounds, syllables or words (e.g. www-why?)
  • as silent pressing of initials (e.g. my name is B——-ernd.)
  • as a stretching out of individual sounds (e.g. Laaaaass me iiiiiiin peace.)

Stuttering is an individual phenomenon. Everyone who stutters stutters differently and in different situations. The extent to which someone stutters also depends on their current mental state. However, stuttering is not a mental disorder, but a physical one.

The speech impediment can occur together with other abnormalities that additionally interfere with communication. These include, for example, linguistic phenomena such as the use of filler words as well as non-linguistic phenomena such as blinking, trembling of the lips, movement of the facial and head muscles, sweating or altered breathing .

stuttering in children

Stuttering usually begins in infancy with no apparent cause. In fact, most children between the ages of two and five go through a phase in their language development when thinking and speaking cannot always keep up. Then a child repeats certain words until he remembers the term he is looking for (example: The-the-the dog bit me). This is normal and usually goes away on its own. In general, 5 percent of all children in this age range stutter.

About 25 percent of these children develop a “real”, i.e. permanent, stuttering. It’s exhausting and frustrating. So it’s no wonder that affected children are reluctant or even afraid to speak, especially when their peers tease them about their stutter. It creates a vicious cycle of fear and avoidance. The stuttering is becoming more and more common. The longer it persists, the harder it is to return to fluency.

stuttering in adults

In adults, stuttering rarely disappears completely. It is therefore usually no longer curable. Nevertheless, therapy can be successful and significantly increase the quality of life. Those affected can learn to speak more fluently and to cope better with the stutter.

This gives many of them the necessary self-confidence to communicate freely with their fellow human beings again and not to let stuttering limit their development – ​​for example when choosing a career or in their leisure activities.

Stuttering can be psychologically distressing

Stuttering can cause significant mental stress. Many stutterers try to cover up their problem. They avoid certain first letters that are difficult for them or quickly exchange tricky terms for other words so that the other person does not notice the stuttering. Fear and the increased effort when speaking lead to avoidance strategies over time. Some even go so far that they only speak when there is no other way. They withdraw from social life.

Stuttering: causes and possible diseases

Speech is a complex interplay of different actions that the brain controls. It is important to coordinate breathing, vocalization and articulation in fractions of a second. This interaction is disturbed in people who stutter.

So far, there is no clear cause for stuttering. It is arguably a multitude of factors that can create and perpetuate stuttering – factors that also influence each other.

  • “Transmission Disorders”: It is assumed that stuttering is based on a disturbance in the nerve signals to be processed for speaking and/or on a motor disturbance of the organs involved in speaking.
  • Predisposition: Since stuttering often runs in families, there is probably a genetic predisposition for it. The fact that boys and men stutter much more frequently than girls and women also speaks in favor of a hereditary component. However, parents do not pass on stuttering to their children directly, but presumably only pass on a corresponding predisposition. If this meets a trigger for the stuttering (e.g. a stressful situation) and there are additional conditions that perpetuate the stuttering, the speech disorder becomes entrenched.
  • Stress and stressful situations: Stuttering can occur or persist post-traumatically, i.e. after a serious life event, or as a result of fear, anxiety and nervousness. Stuttering often worsens when the stutterer is subjected to teasing or when the disorder gets too much attention.

One thing is certain: stuttering is not a mental disorder, but a motor-related speech impairment. It occurs regardless of social and cultural background, level of education and interactions within the family.

Stuttering: therapy

The more precise diagnosis and therapy for stuttering is carried out by speech and language therapists, sometimes also breathing, voice and speech teachers as well as speech therapists. During the examinations, the therapist is partly dependent on the observations of those affected or the parents. First, the type of stuttering and accompanying behaviors are determined together.

Different professional groups use different approaches in the treatment of stuttering. In individual cases, the therapy also depends on the type and severity of the stuttering and the age of the person affected.

The main goals of stuttering therapy are:

  • to take away the fear of the stutterer.
  • practice speaking fluently.
  • to teach the stutterer less strenuous ways of speaking in everyday life.
  • give a feeling for the rhythm of speaking and breathing.

Stuttering therapy for adults

A special method of stuttering therapy for adults is fluency shaping . It is intended to change the way you speak and prevent the person affected from stuttering in the first place. Techniques are, for example, the soft use of the voice at the beginning of the word and the stretching of vowels. They also learn to control their breathing. However, this method must be practiced intensively so that it becomes second nature to the person concerned and the initially strange-sounding speech becomes a natural flow of speech.

Another method is stutter modification . It’s not about completely avoiding stuttering. Rather, the goal is a “fluent stuttering” that can be controlled by certain techniques. The person concerned should learn to react to his stuttering and to intervene in the disturbed flow of speech. It is also essential with this approach that the person concerned develops a stronger self-confidence and deals openly with his problem, so that speaking is no longer fearful for him.

Stuttering therapy for children

Stuttering therapy for children distinguishes between a direct and an indirect approach.

The indirect approach does not focus on the speech problem. Rather, the priority here is to reduce fears and promote the desire to speak. The indirect approach is intended to lay the foundations for fearless, calm speaking. Language and movement games, such as rhythmic verses and songs, but also relaxation and dialogue exercises should encourage the child’s joy of speaking. Working closely with parents can improve the success of therapy.

The direct approach begins directly with the speech problem. The children learn how to control their stuttering, how to relax in the event of blockages and how to handle conversational situations calmly. This approach also promotes an open approach to the problem and strengthens the children’s self-confidence.

chances of success

Is stuttering curable? It depends on. In many children, stuttering disappears spontaneously or through therapy. The chances of success of stuttering therapy are higher the earlier the treatment begins. The longer a child stutters, the less likely it is that it will be cured.

In adults, on the other hand, stuttering only disappears completely in rare cases. However, continuous training can significantly improve the flow of speech and keep stuttering under control.

Stuttering: When do you need to see a doctor?

Whether someone who stutters needs therapy depends on the severity of the speech disorder. Criteria for this are how often stuttering attacks occur and how severe they are. Above all, however, stuttering must be treated if it is a psychological burden for the person concerned.

Avoidance behavior in particular is a clear indication that it is time to seek help – that is, when the person who stutters avoids conversational situations or withdraws from their social environment.

Stuttering: You can do this yourself

Most of all, people who stutter are afraid of the reactions of those around them. If they are relaxed, the language usually flows relatively unproblematically. This means: You can help your stuttering conversation partner by relieving him of the tension. Here are some tips:

  • Take him seriously as a conversation partner.
  • Listen to him calmly and patiently.
  • Let him finish.
  • Don’t interrupt someone who is stuttering, or keep talking out of impatience for them.
  • Signal attention by maintaining eye contact.
  • Well-intentioned encouragement such as “quietly” or “always slowly” can also unsettle the stutterer.
  • Most importantly, never make fun of someone who stutters. Not only can this make stuttering worse, but it can also offend the other person.

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