Stuttering is a complex speech disorder that affects approximately three million Americans. It is characterized by speech behaviors, which are the core of the disorder, and cognitive and affective factors, which become associated with speaking after the person has stuttered for a period of time.
Nobody knows what causes stuttering, but current research indicates that it is caused by a complex interaction between many different variables: hereditary, physiological, psychological and environmental. In fact, most researchers now view stuttering as a heterogeneous disorder involving multiple causes.
Stuttering typically begins between the ages of two and five when speech and language abilities are developing very rapidly. While there is no cure for chronic stuttering, if treated before the child begins to respond emotionally to the problem with frustration, fear and avoidance, the chances are good that stuttering will not become a life-long problem and that the child will not even remember stuttering.
Even though there is no cure for chronic stuttering, significant improvements can be achieved with adolescents and adults who stutter. Part of the therapy for these individuals focuses on reducing the severity of stuttering and developing increased fluency, thereby improving the ability to communicate freely and easily. Another very important part of intervention with this group of stutterers is changing any negative attitudes, fears, and avoidance behaviors that have become associated with speaking. These affective and cognitive factors are harder and slower to change than the speech behaviors, but they must be changed in order for improvements in the ability to communicate effectively to be made and maintained.
One reason that treatment for young children who stutter eliminates the visible speech behaviors of stuttering so much more often than it does for older children and adults is because the affective and cognitive behaviors have not yet developed, or are in the early stages of development. By intervening early, treatment for the behaviors that are the hardest and slowest to change is either eliminated or substantially reduced. That's why early intervention for children who stutter is so important.
The following articles provide information on stuttering that may help develop a better understanding of the disorder:
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Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Fort Worth, TX