Stuttering

King George VI after his coronation in 1937, with Queen Elizabeth
Photo Source: Agence France-Presse

In “The King’s Speech,” King George VI begins 1)  ______ at 4 and struggles with it throughout his life. His stutter is aggravated by stressful situations, like confronting his brother or addressing the public. He speaks better when playing with his daughters, singing words or inserting profanity, or when music blaring in his ears keeps him from hearing himself. These are complicated symptoms, but experts say these details, devised by a screenwriter who stuttered, mirror many aspects of actual stuttering.

Dispelling longstanding misconceptions that the underlying causes of stuttering are language problems or psychological problems like, 2)  ______ or 3.  ______. Researchers say stuttering is really a speech-production problem: a snag in the cascade of steps that our brains and bodies undertake to move the proper muscles to produce words.

Stuttering, which affects about 4)  ______ % of children, usually begins between age 2 and 6. While about 50% of stutterers have family members who stuttered, it is so far impossible to know who will develop it.

Anne Smith, a stuttering expert at Purdue University, says that “stuttering usually begins not with a child’s 5) ___ words and not even with two-word utterances like doggie bark, but when you’re starting with the grammar of the language, prepositions, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. The complexity of grammar, in fact, seems to be part of the hang-up. Dr. Smith has monitored the brain 6) ___ of children watching cartoons in which sentences with meaning errors (“Daddy puts the horse in his coffee”) and grammatical errors are inserted. Stutterers’ brains respond to meaning errors as normal speakers’ brains do, but have a much lower response to grammatical errors, she said.

For unclear reasons, 7) ______ are twice as likely to stutter, and up to four times as likely to continue stuttering into adulthood.

Scientists are finding some answers, though. By examining images of the brains of people who began stuttering as children and people who started stuttering after a stroke, It has been found that stutterers have excess activity in areas involved in speech motor control and coordination of the movements needed for speech. These brain areas may be working overtime because stutterers do not develop the “automatic pattern of speaking” that nonstutterers have, said Dr. Smith.

Genes almost certainly play a role for about half of all stutterers. Dennis Drayna, a scientist at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, has identified gene mutations that appear to be associated with stuttering in a Pakistani family and others. But he and others say there are likely to be different mutations related to stuttering in other families.

As a child who stuttered badly, Gerald Maguire learned the tricks of coping. When called upon in class, he would sometimes answer in the voice of Elmer Fudd or Donald Duck because he didn’t stutter when imitating someone. He found easier-to-say synonyms for words that stymied him. And he almost never made phone calls because he stumbled over a phrase for which there was no substitute: his own name.

Now, Dr. Gerald Maguire, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Irvine, wants to cure the ailment that afflicts him and an estimated three million Americans. He is searching for a drug to treat stuttering, organizing clinical trials and even testing treatments on himself.

If the cause of stuttering has baffled scientists, so has its treatment. A 16th-century Italian physician prescribed 8) ______ to ”dehumidify” the brain. An American Indian tribe made stutterers spit through a hole in a board to drive the devil from their throats.

ANSWERS: 1)  stuttering;  2)  anxiety;  3)  trauma;  4)  5;  5)  first; 6)  waves;  7)  boys;  8)  nosedrops

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