Monday, August 31, 2009

What exactly is stuttering???

I hope all of you had a wonderful weekend! Since many of my readers might not know what stuttering actually is or may have many misconceptions about it, I decided to explain exactly what it is in this post and to make many things about stuttering crystal clear to all of you. I hope this information will be useful and that you will use it to spread awareness of stuttering to the entire world.

1. First of all stuttering is a neurological brain based disorder. This means something is wrong with the speech centers in the brains of people who stutter like problems in neural wiring in a brain. This causes errors in speech production. In other words speech of people who stutter is no longer 100% automatic and easy like it’s for people who don’t stutter. As a result, when people who stutter try to speak or produce sounds/words, their muscles that are involved in speech production get abnormally tense or tight and stop working. When that happens, repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases, and involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the stutterer is unable to produce sounds occur and speech is abnormally interrupted. This leads to an inability to continue speaking until an interruption in speech resolves itself. This can take anywhere from 1 second to several or more minutes in cases of severe/very severe stuttering.

2. There are a little more than 6 billion people on our planet. And out of them only about 15 million stutter. In the United States it’s estimated that around 3 million people stutter.

3. It’s estimated that around 4% of all children develop stuttering. But most outgrow it before they become teenagers or adults. That means that out of this 4% of children, only about 1% continue to stutter in adulthood for the rest of their lives. It should be mentioned that in rare cases, adults acquire stuttering too like after a stroke or some other brain trauma. They usually overcome it with the help from speech therapy and a lot of practice every day.

4. Did you know that stuttering is more common in boys than in girls? For every 4/3 boys who stutter, only 1 girl stutters.

5. Stuttering seems to run in families about 60% of the time. In 40% of cases, stuttering is completely random. That means a person who stutters is the only one in his or her family with this disorder and none of his or her relatives stutter. Despite evidence that stuttering is sometimes passed on in 60% of families, there’s no conclusive evidence that stuttering is passed on genetically. Scientists so far didn’t find any “stuttering genes”.

6. Many people who don’t stutter (including many stutterers) continue to mistakenly believe that stuttering is completely psychological. They think that negative feelings such as low self esteem, low confidence, stress, nervousness, anxiety, etc cause stuttering. This has been proven wrong by scientists studying the brains of people who stutter. Instead of being the cause of stuttering, negative feelings only make stuttering worse. That’s why we see stutterers stuttering a lot more in stressful situations and stuttering a lot less in easy and comfortable situations.

7. Scientific studies of the human brain show that our brains are very flexible. They have great ability to adapt. That’s why we often see many people recovering after a bad stroke and relearning everything that they have forgotten. The same is with human speech. Because our brains are flexible and adaptable, human speech is very modifiable. That’s why it’s possible for a person with a lot of practice and hard work to reduce their accent or to get his or her stuttering under control using speech therapy.

8. Many diseases and disorders remain stable in their severity as time passes. For example, a person with diabetes will still have it to the same degree of severity 5 years from now. That means over these 5 years, that person’s diabetes didn’t get better and didn’t get worse. Believe it or not this general rule doesn’t apply to stuttering. Over the years stuttering becomes better and worse as time passes. That means stuttering never stays the same in terms of its severity and moves in cycles. In other words on one day or during a week it might be better than usual and then the next day or week it might be worse than usual. After that the cycle may repeat itself. This leads many people to mistakenly believe that stuttering might be psychological and it also confuses a lot of people. This interesting characteristic of stuttering makes it an unusual disorder.

9. Did you know that most stutterers don’t stutter when they are alone or when speaking or reading in unison with other people? This fact makes stuttering disorder unusual. Scientists tried to take advantage of this characteristic and created many anti-stuttering devices that fit into a human ear. All of them use delayed auditory feedback (DAF). In other words they enable a user to speak into a tiny microphone and then to hear his or her own voice a fraction of a second later. It has been proven that in the short term these devices reduce stuttering significantly for many people who stutter. Unfortunately in the long term these devices often lose their effect and for most people who stutter their stuttering returns. Interestingly, DAF has a completely opposite effect on normal people who don't stutter. In other words, DAF makes normal people stutter.

10. For an uninformed person, it’s very easy to assume that a person who stutters might have low intelligence just by seeing how he or she speaks. But this assumption/stereo type is wrong most of the time because scientific studies have proven that people who stutter have at least an average intelligence. That means people who stutter are smart just like everybody else is. In other words stuttering is not indicative of intelligence level and may range from below average to above average just like for everyone else.

11. Stuttering officially is classified as a disorder. But many people consider it as a disability (including many people who stutter). I think stuttering can be both. Let me explain what I mean. If stuttering doesn't stop a person from enjoying and living his or her life to the fullest just like everyone around him or her then it’s not a disability. It’s just a disorder. But if stuttering stops that person from living his or her life and significantly interferes in his or her life, then in that case stuttering is a disability in addition to being a disorder until that person overcomes it with a lot of hard work and enough time using speech therapy every day.

12. Many famous people have or had stuttering. Some of them are Moses, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Tiger Woods and our very own current vice president Joe Biden. It’s great to know that stuttering didn’t stop them from becoming very successful. If they could do it, we can too!

Despite everything we already know about stuttering, it’s still one of the oldest mysteries to us (we know stuttering is one of the oldest mysteries because Moses stuttered and ancient Egyptians knew about it). That’s because scientists don’t yet know exactly what is happening in the brains of people who stutter or what wiring problems may exist and how to fix them (I hope this will change in the near future). This is partially because human brains are very complex and scientists still didn’t figure out completely how they work. That’s why it’s very important to support stuttering research and the effort to find a cure. Hopefully scientific efforts to find a cure will be successful very soon!

To my fellow bloggers (especially who have blogs related to stuttering): If you want this post to appear on your blog just email me about it! :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I’m back! Hopefully for a while this time… :)

I sincerely apologize for not posting for a very long time. I was busy with life and at the same time was feeling more hopeless than usual. This resulted in me being a lot less motivated to do anything like continuing posting on this blog.

I hope in the coming months my situation will change for the better and new confidence that I will succeed at the end no matter what and a renewed desire to work very hard will return to me once again. This will of course bring many new interesting posts for all of you to enjoy. I’ll also have a lot of fun writing them and once again share my life and talk about things that interest me. Who knows? Maybe all of us will learn something from all of it at the end.