I’ve been surprised by how many people I’ve come across who have said they’ve never met someone with a speech impediment, and don’t know much about the disorder. I wasn’t very surprised however, when I learned that only one percent of the world’s population has a speech impediment. I don’t see many conversations on the internet about it either. This inspired me to write a series to raise some awareness about the topic. This topic is one that is close to my heart for reasons I will write about in subsequent posts.
What is one percent of the population? According to The Stuttering Foundation, of the seven and a half billion people estimated to be living, seventy million have a speech impediment. A closer look shows that one million people in America have a speech impediment. Also, there are more men than women who stutter. A “stutter” is the same thing as a “speech impediment.” A “stutter-er”, is someone who has a speech impediment. I will use these words interchangeably.
We all probably know what stutterers are, or at least in general we think we do. Stutterers are people who struggle to form certain, if not most, words. Different people struggle with different words. Some may struggle to say words with “h”, “i”, or “d”, for example. The list goes on. The struggle can involve repeating sounds or drawing sounds out, and not being able to finish a word quickly. I’ve noted a lot of stutterers who struggle with vowels. It looks different for everyone. No speech impediment is alike!
Some people have stronger speech impediments, meaning it’s more difficult for them to form words than it is for others. Some people have a more “mild” condition, meaning the struggle to form words isn’t as severe for them. Some stutterers notice that their stutter is stronger on certain days. There are lots of things that can aggravate someone’s stutter, making it stronger, on any given day. If a person has also been diagnosed with social anxiety, the anxiety can aggravate their speech impediment. Stress can also aggravate it. Many people who have a speech impediment stutter more when they are sleep deprived. Some even stutter less when they are sleep deprived.
Allow me to clarify. People do not have a speech impediment because they are nervous or feeling anxious about something. Most of them DO have social anxiety, however. It can be very embarrassing and anxiety-inducing to struggle over a word and repeat sounds over and over. The stutterer can also feel anxious that they may not be able to pronounce a word in time for the conversation with the group to move forward. Let it be known that, yes, feelings of anxiety or nervousness can aggravate a stutterers impediment, making the impediment stronger in a given moment. Anxiety and speech impediments can work together, though stutterers stutter even when they are not feeling anxious or nervous at all. The primary reasons most people stutter has nothing to do with mood.
At times it can be hard to tell if someone has a speech impediment because the struggle is so light for them, and totally hidden from sight or sound. Some people can also mask their speech impediment to the point where others barely notice. So, when their voice shakes a little you probably just think they are nervous. You just have to be really good at reading people in order to discern the difference. So, what exactly is a speech impediment? How does it happen?
Imagine there is a heavy door in front of you. The heaviest you’ve ever seen and it is stuck. You are trying to push past it in order to get through. You may sweat or groan. It takes great effort. In a similar light, stutterers have these things called “blocks.” They may be talking to you, saying something in a totally fluent manner, then their voice may halt. There is silence for a second. They’ve just hit a block! It’s like a wall is suddenly placed in front of them. A “stutter” is literally the sound of them trying to push over, or climb over, the block. It’s a struggle because the block is heavy. The door is heavy!
People can be born with a speech impediment or develop one because of brain damage. For example, speech is controlled in the right hemisphere of the brain, but the stutter is present because of a defect in the left hemisphere, related to the premotor cortex. Every stutter, as noted earlier, is different depending on the individual. There is no sure-fire cure for stuttering, though people who suffer with stuttering can see speech pathologists for therapy. Speech pathologists can assess one’s unique challenge or stutter, then work with the stutterer on how to best manage it.
Stuttering, Let’s Talk About It: Part 1