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September 13, 2011

The recent acclaimed movie The King’s Speech brought the subject of stuttering to the forefront of our collective consciousness. A communication disorder exhibiting repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages in speech, stuttering also may provoke unusual body or facial movements as the stutterer struggles to speak. There is no correlation between emotional trauma and stuttering, also called stammering, or between intelligence and stuttering. Dr. Geoffrey Mountvarner, a congenital stutterer, serves as the Chief of Emergency Medicine and Interim Chairman of Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Dr. Mountvarner finally mastered the disorder in his mid-30s.

Globally, more than 68 million people stutter, including in excess of 3 million Americans. The condition affects males four times as often as it impedes the speech of females. According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, four factors likely affect stuttering: genetics, developmental delays, neurophysiology, and family dynamics. The latter situation might involve fast-paced lifestyles or high expectations. Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, author John Updike, and the subject of the movie, King George VI, all stuttered.

While a cure has not surfaced for stuttering, the speech impediment is unlike other disorders in its variability. This means stuttering may increase or decrease in certain situations, such as speaking on the telephone. Notably, country music star Mel Tillis stutters while speaking, but not while singing. Through speech therapy, children, teenagers, young adults, and even senior citizens can become more fluent. For children who begin stuttering, experts recommend consulting a speech-language pathologist specializing in the disorder.

Aside from their difficulty in speaking, stutterers are clinically normal, as the disorder does not stem from a difficulty in producing speech sounds or in translating thoughts into words. Often, however, stutterers experience anxiety, nervousness, stress, and low self-esteem because of their disability. The disorder may have disparate causes in different individuals, and the original cause may differ from the circumstances that foment its continuation or increase. King George VI, Dr. Geoffrey Mountvarner, and millions of others faced their stuttering head-on, setting an example that a speech impediment does not define a person, but facing it and overcoming it does.


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