James Earl Jones. Samuel L Jackson. Kendrick Lamar. Nicole Kidman. Ed Sheeran. Jimmy Stuart. Michelle Williams. Shaquille O’Neal. Tiger Woods. Jane Seymour. Winston Churchill. King George VI. Prince Albert of Monaco. Joe Biden. The list might look eclectic, but it also captures the wide range of people who have struggled with stuttering, a communication disorder where sounds, syllables, phrases, or words are repeated, breaking the flow of fluent speech (via The Stuttering Foundation).
Stutters usually develop when a child is between two and eight years old, and while some manage to overcome stuttering, it can become a chronic, persistent problem. It is estimated that about 1 percent of the adult population in the United States — or roughly about 3 million people — have a stutter. Stuttering is so common that the National Stuttering Association alone provides over 200 support groups for children, teens, and adults to help them cope with the condition.
While it is common, those who stutter can be viewed as “different,” and as a result, there are plenty of (negative) myths involving stuttering. Here are just a few.
Myth 1: People who stutter aren't smart
It might be easy to dismiss or ridicule a person for a stutter as being slow or not intelligent, but as Psych Central points out, the IQ of an average stutterer is 14 points higher than the national average. Doctor and blogger of The Stuttering Brain, Tom Weiding, writes, “stuttering is not a psychiatric disorder but a motor-control and integration problem that leads to psychological and social issues.”
So because stuttering is not a sign of inferior intelligence, it is not okay to finish a stutterer’s sentences. “Finishing a sentence for a person who stutters is the worst thing you can do. It’s demeaning — worse than telling someone just to relax,” Dennis Drayna, scientist emeritus with the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says. “Would you tell someone walking with a brace on their leg to just walk better?” (via NIH Medline Plus).
Myth 2: Stuttering is caused by a psychiatric problem
Stuttering is triggered by a host of complex factors which have yet to be fully understood. “There is a strong genetic component — stuttering does run in families. But it may be a combination of genetics, something neurological and something environmental. Since about 99 percent of all stutterers develop the disorder in childhood — usually before age 9 or 10 — it indicates that something occurs in the developing brain,” University of California Irvine assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry Gerald Maguire explained. The researcher, who himself stutters, says, “The idea that stuttering is a brain disorder in the same category as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is very controversial. Some feel it attaches a stigma to a disorder that’s already very misunderstood by most” (via Psych Central).
Myth 3: Stutterers 'just need to calm down'
In an explainer on the myths that have arisen as a result of stuttering, The Stuttering Foundation points out that there can be no assumption that people who stutter are more nervous, anxious, or shy than people who don’t.
The founder of another non-profit, the American Institute for Stuttering’s Catherine Montgomery, says she once had a blind patient who had a stutter; someone asked him what was more difficult to deal with, stuttering or a lack of sight. “… he replied, ‘Stuttering — because unlike my blindness, people don’t understand that stuttering is beyond my control.” She points out, “You’d never think of saying to a blind person, ‘Slow down and you’ll be able see,’ or ‘If you just tried a little harder you could see.’ But most of us think if a stutterer just relaxed and tried a little harder, he could speak fluently. That’s not the case.” (via Psych Central).
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