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Why do people stutter? Stuttering causes, how to stop and more

Biden is just one of many public figures who has a stutter. What causes it?
/ Source: TODAY

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been outspoken about his stutter and last night at the Democratic National Convention, a young boy with a stutter shared a story about how Biden had boosted his confidence.

Brayden Harrington, 13, explained in a video that he met Biden in New Hampshire earlier this year.

"He told me that we were members of the same club," he said. "We stutter. It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice president."

Biden is just one of many public figures who has a stutter. Actress Emily Blunt has spoken out about her childhood stutter, which still occurs from time to time.

“By the age of 12, it was really bad, so I was quite quiet because I just didn’t want to speak. It wasn’t like I was lonely — I had lots of friends — but they were like, ‘Why can’t you say it? Just say it,’” Blunt said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning in 2018.

The Stuttering Foundation of America lists Nicole Kidman, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones and Bruce Willis among the many famous people who struggled with stuttering.

How many people are affected by stuttering?

About 1% of humans worldwide — including 3 million Americans — stutter, with the condition affecting people of all ages, but most commonly children 2 to 6 years old, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Up to 10% of children will be affected at some point, with boys two to three times as likely to stutter as girls. About three-quarters of affected kids recover from stuttering; for others, it’s a lifelong problem.

What causes stuttering?

It’s not well understood, but doctors now know there are two types of stuttering:

  1. Developmental stuttering: The most common form, it occurs in children as they are learning speech and language skills, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders noted. A 2013 study suggested it’s fairly common for preschool-age children to stutter — and those who do tend to do fine, both emotionally and socially. Developmental stuttering may also run in families: about 60% of people who stutter have a family member who also has the condition, according to the Stuttering Foundation of America.
  2. Neurogenic stuttering: This may start after a stroke, head trauma, or other type of brain injury.

Stuttering caused by emotional trauma — once thought to be the primary reason — is rare. Still, psychology plays a role: Feeling frustrated, tense, excited or rushed can make a person stutter more, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

How to stop stuttering:

  • Speech therapy can help a person reduce their stutter by learning to speak more slowly, regulate breathing and reduce anxiety. For kids, treatment involves teaching parents about creating a supportive, relaxed environment that encourages the child to speak.
  • Some medicines approved to treat epilepsy, anxiety or depression have been used to treat stuttering, but they come with side effects.
  • Electronic in-ear devices that delay or change the sound of a person's own voice may be an option. Research into whether they are effective long-term continues.
  • Self-help groups can offer support and confidence for people to overcome their stutter.

This story was updated on August 21, 2020, to include recent coverage of stuttering at the Democratic National Convention.