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Emotional Stress Linked to Childhood Stuttering

A recent report shows that small children who have more difficulty handling emotional stress often stutter. While scientists say 50 to 80 percent of these children grow out of it by age five, there is no cure for stuttering if it continues beyond that. VOA's Melinda Smith looks at the problem and what scientists have found.

There is no cure for stuttering and no one really knows what causes it, even though it's believed heredity, and now emotional temperament, play a part. The International Stuttering Foundation estimates that as many as 60 million people around the world have this speech disorder.

The children shown in a video provided by the Stuttering Foundation of America talk about their difficulty communicating with others.

The inability to interact leads to frustration and anger and sometimes withdrawal, says Professor Edward Conture of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. "You simply can't communicate when you want, what you want, to who you want, and how you want. And that can be -- anyone can relate to that -- because that's frustrating."

Dr. Conture studied 111 children aged two to five. That's the age group when stuttering becomes most apparent. While this study was done in the United States, children experience the same routine of play, school and hard work elsewhere in the world. Boys are three times more likely to stutter than girls.

While there is a genetic link in families, Dr. Conture also found that many of these young stutterers typically became more excitable in the give-and-take of what seems like a normal playtime situation. They often took more time to settle back down once they were upset. Their emotional reactions then triggered the stuttering.

Dr. Conture says parents and teachers can help by providing a relaxed environment, which gives the child plenty of chance to speak. Refrain from criticizing or getting angry when he or she can't get the words out, and seek the help of a speech therapist who can work with the child. By doing this, the child hopefully will grow out of it.

Some video courtesy of The Stuttering Foundation of America