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Oscar Winner “The King’s Speech” Raises Awareness for 3 Million American Stutterers

Talking to an audience, interviewing for a job, or giving a speech can give anyone the jitters but for some people it can be torturous. The academy award-winning movie, “The King’s Speech,” identified with those struggles as it portrayed the true story of how England’s King George VI, a stutterer, learned to speak in front of – and to - the public.

Ask any one afflicted with stuttering and they will likely tell you it is a painful and frustrating experience. The anticipatory anxiety, the fear, and the ongoing frustration can pack emotional baggage that is carried well into adulthood.

The cause of stuttering.

Stuttering is a communication disorder. It’s characterized by a break in the flow of speech by repetitions and prolonging of sounds and syllables. Many times stuttering is accompanied by unusual facial and body movements, which causes even more embarrassment. While the exact cause of stuttering remains a mystery, brain imaging points to a neurological problem. Still, genetics, child development, family dynamics, and neurophysiology are four factors that seem to contribute to its development.  When a combination of these factors comes together, stuttering occurs.

Research shows that people who stutter tend to have decreases in white matter in the left hemisphere of the brain. This is the area that involves motor speech. It appears that the brain is the only cause of stuttering, as the mouth, tongue and vocal cords are not involved. However, it’s not clear if these brain abnormalities are the cause or the results of stuttering.

Over 3 million Americans stutter. About 1% of the population worldwide, about 68 million people, struggle with it. Males are four times as likely to be affected as females and approximately 5% of all children stutter for a period of time. Most will recover by late childhood but 1% will continue to stutter in adulthood. Early intervention is critical in overcoming the disorder.

Stutter therapy.

Fortunately, speech therapy, as shown in “The King’s Speech,” has the ability to transform the stutterer into a fluent speaker. Speech therapy may employ auditory feedback so that the person can hear himself or herself. This way he or she can modulate their speech rate.

Other forms of therapy include rhythmic dancing. Dancing contributes to better fluency because the brain’s motor system is involved. Also when a stutterer reads aloud in unison with someone else the stutter can subside.

There are some pharmaceuticals that can help. Some of these medications are antipsychotics that have not been approved by the FDA for stuttering, yet they do help many people. However, you should be careful when considering this option as many of these medications have serious side effects, including addiction.

Sadly, there are stutters that never receive therapy and they retreat into their life and job. They’re always sitting in the back of the room where they never have to engage with anyone. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Some of the most famous people in sports, entertainment, government and science recovered from stuttering to become superstars.

Tiger Woods overcame his childhood stutter. Actor Jimmy Stewart, James Earl Jones, and Marilyn Monroe also stuttered, as did Winston Churchill and Lewis Carroll. Vice President Joe Biden had a stutter. Each of these famous people found a breakthrough moment that set them on the road to more fluent speech. No doubt stuttering has helped shape them into the person they are as they overcame their affliction.

Perhaps “The King’s Speech” will do for stuttering what “As Good As It Gets” did for obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Raising awareness is the first step in easing the pain and frustration for this segment of society.

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