Although there is currently no cure for stuttering, there are a variety of treatments available. The nature of the treatment will differ, based upon a person's age, communication goals, and other factors. If you or your child stutters, it is important to work with a speech-language pathologist to determine the best treatment options.
For very young children, early treatment may prevent developmental stuttering from becoming a lifelong problem. Certain strategies can help children learn to improve their speech fluency while developing positive attitudes toward communication. Health professionals generally recommend that a child be evaluated if he or she has stuttered for three to six months, exhibits struggle behaviors associated with stuttering, or has a family history of stuttering or related communication disorders. Some researchers recommend that a child be evaluated every three months to determine if the stuttering is increasing or decreasing. Treatment often involves teaching parents about ways to support their child's production of fluent speech. Parents may be encouraged to:
- Provide a relaxed home environment that allows many opportunities for the child to speak. This includes setting aside time to talk to one another, especially when the child is excited and has a lot to say.
- Refrain from reacting negatively when the child stutters. Instead, parents should react to the stuttering as they would any other difficulty the child may experience in life. This may involve gentle corrections of the child's stuttering and praise for the child's fluent speech.
- Be less demanding on the child to speak in a certain way or to perform verbally for people, particularly if the child experiences difficulty during periods of high pressure.
- Speak in a slightly slowed and relaxed manner. This can help reduce time pressures the child may be experiencing.
- Listen attentively and maintain eye contact when the child speaks and wait for him or her to say the intended word. Don't try to complete the child's sentences. Also, help the child learn that a person can communicate successfully even when stuttering occurs.
- Talk openly and honestly to the child about stuttering if he or she brings up the subject. Let the child know that it is okay for some disruptions to occur.
Many of the current therapies for teens and adults who stutter focus on learning ways to minimize stuttering when they speak, such as by speaking more slowly, regulating their breathing, or gradually progressing from single-syllable responses to longer words and more complex sentences. Most of these therapies also help address the anxiety a person who stutters may feel in certain speaking situations.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drug for the treatment of stuttering. However, some drugs that are approved to treat other health problems - such as epilepsy, anxiety, or depression -- have been used to treat stuttering. These drugs often have side effects that make them difficult to use over a long period of time. In a recent study funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), researchers concluded that drug therapy has been largely ineffective in controlling stuttering. Clinical trials of other possible drug treatments are currently under way.
Some people who stutter use electronic devices to help control fluency. For example, one type of device fits into the ear canal, much like a hearing aid, and digitally replays a slightly altered version of the wearer's voice into the ear so that it sounds as if he or she is speaking in unison with another person. In some people, electronic devices help improve fluency in a relatively short period of time. Nevertheless, questions remain about how long such effects may last and whether people are able to easily use these devices in real-world situations. For these reasons, researchers are continuing to study the long-term effectiveness of these devices.
Many people find that they achieve their greatest success through a combination of self-study and therapy. Self-help groups provide a way for people who stutter to find resources and support as they face the challenges of stuttering.
What research is being done about stuttering?
Researchers around the world are exploring ways to improve the early identification and treatment of stuttering and to identify its causes. For example, scientists have been working to identify the possible genes responsible for the types of stuttering that tend to run in families. NIDCD scientists have identified three such genes - one on chromosome 12 and two on chromosome 16 -- that are the source of stuttering in some study participants in Pakistan, England, and the United States. The three genes, called GNPTAB, GNPTG, and NAGPA, work together to help in the breakdown and recycling of cellular components. Interestingly, other mutations in GNPTAB and GNPTG are tied to two serious metabolic disorders, called mucolipidosis (ML) II and III, which are also caused by problems with cellular recycling. Researchers are now studying how this defect in the recycling of cell components leads to specific deficits in speech fluency.
Researchers are working to help speech-language pathologists determine which children are most likely to outgrow their stuttering and which children are at risk for continuing to stutter into adulthood. In addition, researchers are examining ways to identify groups of individuals who exhibit similar stuttering patterns and behaviors that may be associated with a common cause.
Scientists are using brain imaging tools such as PET (positron emission tomography) and functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to investigate brain activity in people who stutter. NIDCD-funded researchers also are looking at brain imaging as a way to help treat people who stutter. Researchers are studying whether volunteer patients who stutter can learn to recognize, with the help of a computer program, specific speech patterns that are linked to stuttering and to avoid using those patterns when speaking.